Two women have passed the Army's Ranger School, becoming the first females to complete the grueling combat training program and earn the right to wear Ranger tabs on their uniforms.
The Army's Ranger headquarters in Fort Benning, Ga., says the women and 94 men passed the tough 62-day course that tests their ability to overcome fatigue, hunger and stress during combat operations.
While completing the leadership course lets the two women wear the coveted Ranger black-and-gold tab, it does not let them become members of the Ranger regiment. Neither woman has been identified by the military.
Allowing women to participate in the Ranger course is part of the U.S. military's push to open more combat jobs to women. But the toughest jobs remain closed to female soldiers — including infantry, armor and special operations positions. That includes the 75th Ranger Regiment, which requires additional schooling that is physically and mentally challenging before soldiers can join.
Still, former Army officers such as Sue Fulton, who in 1980 was among the first women to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, celebrated the news as another milestone toward ending gender barriers in the military.
"This answers whatever questions may still remain about whether women have the strength, the will and the physical courage to become combat leaders," said Fulton, a former Army captain who now chairs the West Point Board of Visitors, an advisory panel of presidential appointees and members of Congress.
A graduation ceremony will be held Friday at Fort Benning, the U.S. Army post near the Georgia-Alabama line.
"Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level," Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement. "This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential."
"We owe soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable," he added.
The 62-day Ranger school includes three phases, each in a different part of the country: wooded areas of Fort Benning, the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia, and swamps in Florida.
The first 20 days of Ranger school focus on military skills and endurance. Then, the mountain phase near Dahlonega, Ga., includes more small-unit operations and survival techniques. The final so-called swamp phase takes place in Florida and includes airborne assault, amphibious operations and extreme mental and physical stress.
Female soldiers were held to the same physical standards as men. That included passing a fitness test of 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, six chin-ups and finishing a 5-mile run in 40 minutes. Graduates also had to perform a 12-mile foot march in three hours, complete three parachute jumps and four air assaults on helicopters as well as endure 27 days of mock combat patrols.