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In April of this year, for the first time ever, 19 women started the Army’s premiere infantry leadership school. This Friday, two of them will graduate, automatically making them two of the most accomplished female soldiers in American history. Officially, we’re all happy for them. Unofficially, some Army guys are pretty salty about it. I am not one of them.
Ranger School is like doctorate level infantry school. To complete it, you have to have a heart of a warrior, the mind of an assassin and the bravery (or ovarian fortitude, apparently) of a base jumper. You have to be able to march, run, ruck, dig, dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge your way through 61 days of a very specifically crafted hell. If you were talking about a guy, you’d say these are the dudes with the brass balls. Only the best soldiers are even allowed to attend. Over half of them fail out.
So why are some guys hellbent on being unimpressed by the first women to ever accomplish this feat?
Reason #1: “They had unfair advantages.”
Response: So what.
There are lots of good reasons for asking whether the playing field was level for these women, and this is where most of the outrage comes from. It’s rumored that they had some things in their favor, including (according to a person with inside knowledge of their training) personal attention from physical trainers leading up to the course, hand-selection for the course by West Point leadership, a six-month train-up period that most soldiers don’t get, and extra attempts where “normal” candidates would’ve been expelled.
Very soon the Army is going to have to figure out what to do with women in infantry units. They are going to have to take a good hard look at this Ranger school experiment and decide whether there will ever be a female to go through again, or whether women should be put in the Ranger Battalion–the Ranger-only unit that’s one of the U.S.’ most elite. Or whether they can hack it in the regular infantry.
But this question of fairness, which I don’t have an answer to, is immaterial to the fact that whatever you think about the “what do we do now” question, it’s overall a good thing that two of them passed.
Reason #2: Women don’t belong in the infantry.
Response: Passing Ranger school doesn’t make you a Ranger.
One of the women is a helicopter pilot. Which, incidentally, I happen to be, and can say without a shadow of a doubt, is the best job in the Army. There’s exactly zero chance of her leaving helicopters to be an infantry grunt. The other is an MP. Neither of them will go to the Ranger Battalion that everyone thinks of when they hear the term Ranger. They’ll continue to work in their jobs. They’ll just be rock stars in their units.
No honest assessment of the state of female empowerment in the military could come to any conclusion other than “We’ve made progress, but still have more to do.” The rate of women harmed by fellow soldiers is still disturbing. The number of women in senior leadership is questionable at best. Across the board, more respect for women in the military is a good thing, and this is a step towards that. As more of the knuckledraggers responsible for those alarming trends are retiring, things are getting better. This Ranger School experiment would’ve never happened ten years ago, for example. But one thing is certain–these women are going to change some men’s minds. And some other women’s too.
The sad truth is that there are still women in our military who feel (who ARE) marginalized, under-appreciated, and aren’t given opportunities for the simple fact that they have boobs. And that keeps them from contributing as much as they could. I can guarandamntee you that there are females out there who were on the fence about applying to flight school, or Officer Candidate School, or Sapper school, who are going to look at what these killers have done and say, “If they can do that, I can do this.” There are going to be females out there in the gym pumping more iron than you, thinking maybe some day they’ll get a chance like this and they want to be ready.
And if you look at statistics, it’s not unreasonable to say there’s likely a girl out there who was raped by a fellow soldier, who will find strength from these two girls. If you don’t see value in that, then you are a terrible person and probably everybody you know dislikes you.
Whether a single other female passes Ranger School (they might not), or even attends, it doesn’t change the fact that these women have accomplished something truly special. And even if you disagree with the idea that our military will be stronger with more female leaders, you can’t argue with the fact that these women are trailblazers. And in a military that needs more female role models, that’s a good thing.
I can’t make any judgments about whether these women “earned” their passing marks. I have no idea whether this is good for the Rangers–one of America’s most valuable assets for the last several decades. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it will, as some of the detractors claim, water down the accomplishments of the thousands of Rangers who graduated previous classes without the instructors wearing satin gloves, and the personal nutritionists, and the special attention. Maybe you could make an argument that allowing women to be Rangers isn’t good for the Army as a whole. Does it make us a stronger fighting force? I think it does, but you might not. Does it put more women at risk for abuse because the infantry is a dangerous environment? I don’t think so, but you might.
But regardless of how you answer those questions, there can’t be any doubt that this will be good on a personal level for thousands and thousands of women soldiers around the world. The long-term effect to the Army won’t really be known for years. But the immediate effects this will have on women soldiers, many of whom I count as my closest friends, is known, and it’s almost categorically a good thing. And in my criteria for judging the worth of something, I prioritize what’s definitely best for people over what’s MAYBE best for the Army.
And, ultimately, if it gives us a stronger, more empowered, more motivated female soldier-base, that’s good for the Army too. Which is good for ‘Merica.