On Friday, the US Army announced that all of the women who had attempted to graduate Ranger School had officially “washed out” of the program, failing to meet the standards, one news outlet reports.
Ranger School, is a program designed to train the Army’s most elite special operations fighting unit, opened its doors to women, for the very first time this year. Eight of the original 20 women who entered the programs first co-ed offering were allowed to recycle through it again, after washing out the first time. Friday’s announcement confirmed they washed out again, although three of those eight have been invited to recycle again.
Many are saying that the program is working as intended, stating that the Rangers are the best of the best, arguing that Rangers must pass a grueling physical test that pushes mind and body to the limits. Many say if women can’t do it, they don’t deserve to be called a “Ranger”.
Although there are other opinions that are quietly rising among the ranks, that say Ranger School is more a “rite of passage”. An opportunity for men to “thump their chests”, instead of a realistic preparation for leading in battle. They believe women can actually make the units better and more effective, and the standards keeping them out, are outdated.
This opinion, although many may find surprising, comes from two currently active Rangers, who both know their opinions will about a swift chastising from many of their fellow Rangers, as their brothers claim it would require a lowering of the program’s standards to attain a goal that was born out of “political correctness”.
Although this line of thought will not likely gain acceptance anytime soon, as Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s top officer has made perfectly clear during a breakfast with reporters on Thursday. While praising the effort of the women who washed out of the program, he added; “I’m actually fairly adamant about not changing the physical standards.”
Yet there is definitely a discussion brewing, as seen in a statement made by the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus this week to Navy Times reporters, that once women start attending SEAL Training, it would make sense to reexamine the standards. “First, we’re going to make sure there are standards. Second, that they are gender-neutral, and third, that they have something to do with the job,” he said.
It seems that it is increasingly the men who are doing all the talking about standards though, because they’ve trained in the schools, served in the field and believe it’s the “right thing to do.”
“Of course women don’t want to change the standard – they don’t want to be accused of lowering it,” says Col. Jason Amerine, a Ranger and West Point graduate. “And men don’t want to change it either, because it lets us thump our chest.”
As a result, “women will always fight to meet the male standard, even if it’s arbitrary and kind of stupid,” he adds. “I’m often pretty horrified at the adversity they face, while they keep their mouths shut and deal with it.”
Many have voiced opinions that the time has come for a lengthy discussion regarding the standards.
“I think it’ll be contentious, but I think it’s equitable and sensible to ask the question about what are the [Ranger School] standards that are only related to the fact that only men have ever done it,” says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who served as the top commander of United States forces in Afghanistan, as well as three tours in Army Ranger battalions.
What’s more, “it needs to be a Ranger qualified leader,” he adds, one with “intestinal fortitude” to ask: “What’s the ‘secret sauce’ of Ranger School? How do you not dilute that, but make sure the standards make sense?”
Many others are saying that the argument is less about gender equality and more about the firm belief that women can make Ranger battalions better. They have been using ideology such as; in modern warfare, public relations with locals is crucial and women could provide value in place such as Afghanistan or Iraq, where the cultural norms often prohibit contact between male soldiers and civilian women. It seems they are finding that within the Ranger program that the women candidates are showing better problem-solving skills, as well as offering new approaches to old problems.
Colonel Amerine feels that women have proven themselves on the battlefield, adding; “I was rarely with female soldiers who couldn’t hang.”
In his mind, this raises questions as to what Ranger School is truly about, because with new technologies making raw physical strength less important, the real challenge will be bringing women’s leadership skills into the upper ranks of the armed forces.
Colonel Jason Dempsey, fellow Ranger and West Point graduate states that this points to the need for “reassessing what warfighting is and what’s really important,” adding, “rather than having 100,000 guys who are essentially pack mules.”
Amerine, who was awarded the Bronze Star with “Valor” for Special Forces action in Afghanistan, and is currently under whistleblower investigation for criticizing US hostage rescue policies, states that he believes Ranger School could be made better.
“Nobody is saying, ‘Are the standards kind of stupid?’ ” he adds. “What’s interesting is that no one had this much love for the standards when it was only men.”
Ranger School involves standards of physicality such as, “carrying 60 or 70 pounds on your back and walking for 12 miles – it’s not brain surgery,” Colonel Dempsey says, “Any effort to change that is ‘changing the standard,” but adds the question; “Are these standards a fair measure of the challenges of combat?”
“If Ranger School is actually about teaching soldiers how to lead and how to fight, then maybe the rite-of-passage aspect of it needs to be lightened,” Amerine says. It might make more sense to figure out “what is the standard for serving in combat, then deal with the rite of passage.”
There seems to be no indication that the Army is actually considering any such changes in the near future, but it is still going to allow women to strive for their Ranger tab at the current standards.
“We’ll probably run a couple more pilots,” General Odierno said. “I don’t think we’re going to give up on it.”