1. Military

Female soldiers provide their first accounts of completing Ranger School

The first female graduates of the Army's Ranger School offered their initial public comments Thursday on their experiences breaking through that gender barrier, citing a mix of elation and exhaustion after an ordeal that one described as "the hardest days of my life."

First Lts. Kristen Griest, 26, and Shaye Haver, 25, took questions for about an hour from reporters at Fort Benning, Ga., after enduring a 61-day course that involved parachuting, mountaineering and grueling tests of physical endurance.

"I think I had like three of the hardest days of my life each week at Ranger School," Griest said. "Every day I was like, 'No, this is the hardest day of my life.'"

Haver said the women were dispersed during Ranger training and did not turn to each other for support.

"It was never about the women trying to beat the men through Ranger School," Haver said.

The women were among 20 female soldiers who qualified to take the first gender-integrated Ranger School course.

Both failed the difficult first phase of the course twice but were allowed to start over — a so-called "Day 1 recycle" — in an unusual accommodation that has prompted sniping online from critics who claim the women received special consideration that men rarely get.

The persistent strain of criticism led leaders of the program to take the unusual step of issuing a defiant response on a Ranger-affiliated Facebook page.

The commanding officer at Fort Benning, Maj. Gen. A. Scott Miller, denied that he had granted any favors to the women or otherwise sought to influence the outcome. Instead, he cited the female soldiers' success as proof that women can compete even in the military's most arduous settings.

"I think we've shown that it's not exclusively a male domain here," said Miller