The reaction was swift and strong as word spread Monday night that two women soldiers had become the first females to pass the Army’s most demanding combat leadership course.
The women, whom the Army has not yet named, will graduate from Ranger School at 11 a.m. Friday morning at Fort Benning’s Victory Pond and be awarded the Ranger tab, a distinction held by less than 3 percent of the force’s soldiers.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Smith, whose final assignment was in 2012 with the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, had this reaction to the news: “Awesome! Wow! Cool!”
Not everyone feels that way.
Retired Lt. Col. Don Bowman, a Columbus certified public accountant who is in the Ranger Hall of Fame, called the situation silly and questioned the financial cost to the Army.
“This is social engineering and political correctness run amok,” said Bowman, 80. “I do not say the contribution of women to our armed forces is not valuable. I have worked with them and found their contribution to be of a high standard. Their work is highly prized and they bring insights and talent to the army that are of incalculable value.”
The Army has announced that the Ranger School class beginning Nov. 2 will accept females. The school has not been fully opened to women, and the November class, like the one that began in April, is being called a pilot.
“I do know that there are more females out there who are capable of attending this school,” Smith said. “There is no doubt in my mind about that. But the question becomes ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?’ The Army has spent thousands and thousands of dollars to send students to a school that has a graduation rate of 48 percent.”
David Perry, a retired major now living in South Carolina, earned his Ranger tab in 1997 and was a Ranger instructor at Fort Benning in 2000.
“Bottom line, this is great news for our Army,” he said. “The ability to be a great military leader is not and never has been gender specific. ... We just got more good combat leaders.”
Bowman, a Vietnam veteran, questions if the women could serve in a combat capacity, a decision the Army has yet to make. The women who will receive the Ranger tab Friday are not eligible to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, one of the nation’s elite small-unit fighting forces.
“It is the sacred trust of leaders at every level to do the things necessary to get the most of these men home alive and in one piece,” Bowman said. “I am not some bitter old mossback, I am a hard-nosed old soldier who wants to have as many soldiers come home alive as we can possibly have after doing the nation’s dirty work. This does nothing to advance that cause. In the long haul it will reduce that chance, and that is a betrayal of trust.”
Perry does not see it that way.
“Having a Ranger-qualified female doesn’t take anything away from our Army or the tab that I wore,” Perry said.
The debate has spilled onto social media where there have been a variety of reactions.
A Ranger who received his tab in June posted the following comment on the Ledger-Enquirer’s Facebook page: “I went through with them the first time they attempted Darby. The one in the pic was in my company. If any female was going to make it, it was her. ... I believe we lost a lot of good men because the females were there but I have no doubt she earned it. Good job and congrats.”
Other readers posted sarcastic memes with messages such as this one: “Women in combat? Is the kitchen under attack?”
Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Curt Arnold, who has been part of the process of putting women into Ranger School, said in a Facebook post that he was proud of those who upheld the standards.
“To this point I have maintained a silence of sorts on this topic,” Arnold posted. “Yes, I know I have given numerous interviews but overall I have tried to be the quiet professional that is expected of Command Sergeants Majors and Rangers. Today, though, I will deviate slightly to give praise to the soldiers, non-commissioned officers, officers and most importantly the Ranger instructors who make me proud to serve with them.”
Arnold insisted the standards were unchanged.
“Many have questioned whether or not standards were maintained, whether or not compromises were given to these soldiers,” Arnold wrote. “I can honestly and unequivocally say that no standard was changed. I am proud of these soldiers as I am proud of all Ranger graduates. It’s a tough demanding course, one which I have often been heard saying, we don’t add to or take away from the standards, we don’t need to, Ranger School is hard enough, the standards will sort it all out.”