The Army Should Assign Roles Based On Merit, Not Gender

Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt
Friday 21 August 2015 10.15 EDT

Now that two women have graduated from Army Ranger school, it’s time to end remaining restrictions on women’s roles in the military

During my deployment to Iraq in 2007, the IED that hit my vehicle did not discriminate between male and female soldiers. During my deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, I accompanied combat arms soldiers on “door-kicking” missions, searching the women in remote villages. I carried out this unofficial duty in addition to my official combat support job – women in the US military were officially barred from serving in combat units until 2013.

For the 13 years that I have served in the United States Army Reserve, I’ve always known that women have what it takes to lead and execute in modern warfare, which is why it came as no surprise that two women will be the first female graduates of Ranger School. For me, this was always a question of when — never if.

As a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Department of Defense’s combat exclusion policy in 2012, I pointed out that the inability to enroll in elite schools such as Ranger School simply due to gender constituted structural discrimination. This automatic rejection puts female soldiers and officers at a disadvantage for future assignment choices and career advancement.

A few months after the suit was brought, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he was officially rescinding the 1994 directive that prohibited women from being assigned to ground combat units and positions. And although there’s still a ways to go to achieve full combat integration, opening the Ranger course to women on a trial basis allowed for the historic graduation of two highly qualified women soldiers to take place Friday. This is a great start, but the Army must open all positions to qualified women.

Putting men and women on equal footing would expand the potential pool of recruits. Currently, two thirds of America’s youth would not qualify for military service, be it due to criminal records, not having a high school diploma or physical conditions such as obesity. Of the one third left, only about 1% of those young adults would be inclined to have a conversation with a recruiter. As fewer people are able to meet the military standard to join and are less inclined to actually join if they do, the Army must focus on attracting top talent, irrespective of gender.

Once the Army attracts that talent, they must work to keep it. By maintaining discriminatory policies that still exclude women from the vast majority of combat positions, women are shown that the Army is not the place for them if they want to have a career. They receive the unspoken message that no matter how hard they work, or how good they are, at the end of the day it’s their gender and not their ability that the Army cares about. It tells the male soldiers that women can only be counted on to do the support jobs and only trusted to an extent. Even with over a decade of experience, including two deployments, I have often felt that I still needed to prove that I belong in uniform.

As the first two women to ever earn Ranger tabs prepare for their graduation this week, I applaud not only them, but the Army for waking up to the reality that it is time to do away with needless archaic rules. Their graduation has already seemingly influenced other service branches. This week the Navy announced that they would likely open up the Seals to women who pass the rigorous Basic Underwater Demolition Course. The Navy actually goes one step farther than the Army, which has not announced whether the 75th Ranger Regiment and other elite units will be open to women.

In today’s ever-changing and complex battlefield, the Army needs to stress talent and ability to complete the mission over gender. I hope that the female graduates’ leadership will show the Army that grit and ability know no gender and show the next generation of soldiers, both male and female, that their abilities will be fully recognized based on their merit alone.

Women Graduate for the First Time from U.S. Army Ranger School

Captain Kristen Griest, 26, and first lieutenant Shaye Haver, 25, graduated from the prestigious school in Fort Benning, Georgia, with 94 male classmates

Alan Yuhas in New York | @alanyuhas

Friday 21 August 2015 12.32 EDT

Women graduated for the first time from the US Army Ranger School on Friday, a milestone for the American military as it slowly integrates female soldiers into its most storied units.

Captain Kristen Griest, 26, and first lieutenant Shaye Haver, 25, graduated from the prestigious school in Fort Benning, Georgia, with 94 male classmates who successfully finished three arduous phases of training, lasting months in total.

“What a great day it is to be a US army ranger,” command sergeant major Curtis Arnold said to the graduates, alumni and family assembled by the school’s “Victory Pond”.

“From lightning strike survivors to cancer survivors, and yes, the first women ranger graduates,” he continued, “these are the soldiers who upheld the ranger standard, the only standard.”

Major general Scott Miller, the commanding general of the school, said he felt he had to address “some of the nonsense on the internet” about adjusted standards.

“The five-mile run is still five miles. The times do not adjust. The 12-mile road march is still 12 miles. Times do not adjust,” he said. “The mountains of Dahlonega are still here. The swamps remain intact. There was no pressure from anyone above me to change standards.”

He then invited anyone who questions the standards to come to Fort Benning and attempt to match them.

“You’ve acquitted yourselves quite well,” Miller told the graduating rangers, adding that “there’s something special behind that handshake” between two rangers.

“At some point going through this course you found a moment of vulnerability, where you weren’t the best you wanted to be. What matters is what you do with that moment of vulnerability. Are you able to overcome, to persevere, and most importantly are you able to help the team.”

Before the graduation ceremony, rangers demonstrated some of the skills trained in in the preceding months: rappelling down vertical walls ready to fire a weapon horizontally; crawling out along a rope and then doing chin-ups high over the ground; hand-to-hand combat; dropping from helicopters; swimming with gear yards to shore.

The show was only a hint of what the rangers endured: weeks of hunger and sleep deprivation, miles carrying heavy packs of gear and munitions, night hikes through pitch-black swamps and silent, rigorous patrols through steep mountains.

“I think I would be crazy to say I didn’t [think about quitting],” Haver told reporters on Thursday. “The men can back me up on this. There’s definitely a point you hit along the way,” she said. “But the ability to look around to my peers and see they were sucking just as badly” gave her strength, she said.

An Apache helicopter pilot from Copperas Cove, Texas, Haver said on Thursday that she plans to return to her unit and “serve as far as leadership will let me continue”.

Griest, a military police officer from Orange, Connecticut, said she’s “interested to see what new doors do open up for women. I think Special Forces would be something that I’m definitely interested in”.

“We can handle things physically and mentally on the same level as men and we can deal with the same stresses,” she later added.

“The team that I’m graduating with tomorrow accept me completely as a ranger and I couldn’t be more proud and humbled by the experience,” Haver said.

Miller praised the women’s accomplishment on Thursday, and reiterated what all instructors and observers said: standards never wavered with the women’s arrival.

“Some students looked slightly different than others but for the most part it’s just the same,” Arnold said. “It’s still just ranger training.”

“I think we’ve shown it’s not exclusively a male domain here,” Miller said, but he demurred as to the army’s impending decision of whether to fully integrate combat roles or to ask for exceptions from defense secretary Ash Carter in January 2016.

Fort Benning will run another course open to women ranger applicants in November, Miller said.

“We’ll contribute to the discussion, but I think we just let them have some more time to make a decision.”

Griest said that she hopes “that with our performance in Ranger School we’ve been able to inform that decision”.

A third female student in the current class is currently retaking the mountain phase of training, and has a chance to graduate before 18 September.

Haver and Griest remain barred from applying for the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite combat force related to but separate from the school, and a unit with its own rigorous selection process. Earlier this week, however, army, navy and air force officials suggested they are moving toward full integration, including in Special Forces units such as the rangers and Seals.

About 40% of applicants to the Ranger School graduate each year, and only about 3% of soldiers in the army qualify for the course.