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For The First Time, Female Soldiers To Graduate From Army's Ranger School


Let's hear the story of two women who passed some of the toughest training in the Army. They will graduate from the Ranger School. Spend time around the Army and you'll run across a Ranger. Someone who's Ranger-trained carries special distinction - part of a fraternity of elite soldiers who, in past generations, scaled the cliffs of Normandy on D-Day. Ranger-trained soldiers were all men, until two unnamed female lieutenants passed the training course. NPR's Tom Bowman is here. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Sounds like a big milestone.

BOWMAN: Steve, this is very significant. The Army's been doing Ranger training for 65 years. This training is two months long. You patrol with a heavy pack in the woods, the mountains, the swamps. You're exhausted. You don't get enough sleep or enough to eat. And it's supposed to replicate the grueling nature of combat. One officer I know went through it years ago. He said, I lost 30 pounds in Ranger training. So - and only about 40 percent of those who start the training make it to graduation, but this Ranger's designation, Steve, is seen as necessary for a career as an Army combat leader.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and of course it's a tradition that goes back even earlier than the training as we mention. Now, you said only about 40 percent of men make it through. We know that two women made it through. How many women started?

BOWMAN: Well, 19 women began the training at Fort Benning, Ga. and just two, as we said, made it through and will graduate on Friday. Now, one other woman, part of that 19, is still training. She had to repeat the mountain phase of Ranger training. So it's possible you could see one more woman graduate here.

INSKEEP: Tom, there's been so much question here about whether the standards will in some way be changed for women or changed for everyone in order to accommodate women. Did these women who graduate make the same standards as everybody else?

BOWMAN: Yes, they did. Everybody did the exact same training. Now, whether or not they can serve in ground combat, we don't know yet. But this of course is a big step. The question for Army and Marine Corps leaders is, should they open up infantry and other ground combat jobs to women? Their senior leaders are looking into it. The Marine Corps - I've been out on training with men and women Marines. They're doing a larger experiment. They put 300 men and 100 women through infantry, armor and artillery training, and they're still looking at the data. One thing they're saying, however, is that women tend to wash out of training - infantry training - because they're getting stress fractures from carrying that heavy pack and just the bone density that's different between men and women. So that's something they'll be looking at in the weeks and months ahead.

INSKEEP: And I appreciate hearing this because I think the big news that people have probably absorbed is that the military has largely decided to allow women in formal combat roles, but you're reminding us that this is actually a step-by-step-by-step process - let them into training, see who gets through the training, go from there. I guess this now raises other questions now that women have passed Ranger training. What about some other elite distinctions - arguably even more elite distinctions, like becoming a Navy SEAL or a Green Beret? Will women be allowed to try for that?

BOWMAN: You know, we've been asking about that repeatedly for months now. The Navy SEALs, the Green Berets have been silent about it. As far as we know, they've not put any women through the training. And I am hearing the speculation that the Special Operations Community may ask for a waiver - may say to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, listen, we think these jobs - these elite commando jobs - should remain closed. But we'll just have to see about what happens.

INSKEEP: And what about the final decision about putting women in formal ground combat roles?

BOWMAN: Well, sometime this fall the Army, Marine Corps leaders will go to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and say, here's the data, here's what we found. And they'll decide, listen, should we open them up or ask for a waiver to continue to keep these jobs closed? But the defense secretary will make the final call on that.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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