The women refused to give up, even though so many have before them.
First Lt. Shaye Haver is going to make history today when she and Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, become the first women to graduate from Ranger School. The School is known to be the Army's most physically demanding one.
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At 25, the helicopter pilot didn't want to create some sort of statement or a political point. Instead, she just wanted to earn the respect of her Ranger teammates. “We kind of were winning hearts and minds as we went,” Hayer said Thursday, explaining that they won the respect of other students by carrying their own weight on grueling patrols and meeting the tough physical standards. “Every single time that we accomplished something, it gave us that extra foothold,” she said.
While it isn't immediately clear that the breakthrough will have some sort of widespread impact on women in the military, it is a large step. The Ranger School was only opened up to women this year because the Army want to determine how to lift its ban on women serving in ground combat job specialties, such as infantry, armor and special operations. Women cannot serve in the Army’s elite Ranger regiment yet - though that will be likely to change as well.
The Pentagon does hope to open all of the armed services to women by the end of 2015 - even though the issue is controversial among veterans.
Haver and Griest, both West Point graduates, along with a handful of male graduates of the course, met with reporters Thursday on the eve of the graduation ceremony. They discussed the monumental occasion:
“We ourselves came to Ranger School skeptical, with our guards up,” Haver said, referring to critics who thought the Army was bowing to political whim in opening the school and would lower standards. “But we didn’t come with a chip on our shoulder like we had anything to prove.”
"We felt like we were contributing as much as the men, and we felt that they felt that way, too," Griest said.
Second Lt. Michael Janowski, 24, said he was initially skeptical about women being able to pass through the notoriously difficult course.
However, one night they were carrying heavy loads through the course and he needed someone to help him, only no one volunteered. Haver said that she would, so she gained his respect. All of the men had similar situations.
Major General Austin Miller, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, said standards remained the same, and he felt no pressure from senior leaders to make any changes.
Both of the women supported that, according to NPR. They didn't want to go in easily: “No woman that I know wanted to go to Ranger School if they change the standards, because then it degrades what the (Ranger) tab means,” Griest said.
The test, which is a two month course, deprives the participants of sleep and food. Only 60% of people pass.
The two women graduating Friday will have spent 123 days in Ranger training, having had to repeat a few of the sections. Their perseverance impressed hardened Ranger instructors at the school, earning them high numbers from evaluations.
“These two soldiers who are graduating tomorrow, they have absolutely earned the respect of every Ranger instructor in the Ranger training brigade,” Arnold said.
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“This is an alpha male environment,” Arnold said. “Imagine, if you will, you’re on a 12-mile foot march and a female soldier who weighs about 120 pounds crushes you on the foot march. ... It absolutely earns them some respect.”