FORT BENNING, GEORGIA - Two women made history Friday as the first female soldiers to graduate from the U.S. Army's elite Ranger school.
Rangers make up only about 3 percent of the active duty force of the Army. As the Ranger sign at Fort Benning, Georgia warns, the program is "not for the weak or fainthearted."
Sixty percent of soldiers selected for the course won't make it all the way through. Friday's graduating Ranger class started with 364 students, but only 94 men and two women passed the course.
“You can’t really have an off day. You can’t really be tired. You have to go the extra mile," new Ranger graduate Capt. Kristen Griest said.
Week after week of obstacles test physical and mental strength in daylight and dark. After passing a tough fitness test, the soldiers must make it through weeks in the woods, mountains and swamp before earning the coveted Ranger tab. But new Ranger 1st Lt. Shaye Haver - the other female making history at Friday's graduation - said she was "in it to win it."
The two female graduates had to pass the same standards as the men to earn the Ranger tab. That included carrying the same amount of weight, completing tasks in the same amount of time and requiring approval from their peers during leadership exercises.
"I don’t care if that’s a male or a female – if they have a Ranger tab on, I want them next to me," said 2nd Lt. Erickson Krogh" and these two females have shown themselves that they can serve by my side at any time because I know that I can trust them, and I hope that they can trust me.”
Their success is causing a societal shift, according to Katherine Kidder of the Center for a New American Security.
"This really challenges that assumption that women can’t compete, and I think it also shows that there’s a real ability for cultural change," she said.
More women will try to take the course to try to earn the Ranger designation in November.
Women in combat
The breakthrough comes as the military is studying whether to integrate women in roles historically held only by men. Under current rules, the two female graduates can earn the Ranger tab but cannot actually serve as Rangers in the field.
The chiefs of the military services have until October 1 to say which combat posts should remain closed to female service-members, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. He is requiring documentation to justify any exclusion.
"The Department's policy is that all ground combat positions will be open to women unless rigorous analysis of factual data shows that the positions must remain closed," Carter said.
The decision is very important to Griest, as she told reporters at Fort Benning Thursday, she's interested in joining the Army's special forces.
"Each and every soldier that’s out there should have the opportunity to come and attend Ranger school," said Col. David Fivecoat, Commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. "These two women were the first ones that came and met all the standards, and in the future, if the Army decides it, we’ll be happy to see more," he said.
VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed from Washington.