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Next stop, Florida swamps: Two women qualify for final phase of Ranger School

The two soldiers, both of whom are West Point graduates, are within 17 days of becoming the first women ever to earn a Ranger tab.

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A woman soldier climbs the steepest ascent in the mountain phase of Ranger School. For the first time, three women, all West Point graduates, are participating in the grueling phase of Ranger training.

Anna Mulrine/The Christian Science Monitor

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Two Army soldiers are still in the running to become the first women ever to earn a Ranger tab.

On Friday, the Army announced that these women, along with 125 men, successfully passed the second phase of Ranger school – the mountain phase – in the north Georgia mountains. 

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Coming into the mountain phase, three of the 19 women who originally began Ranger School back in April were still at Ranger School. One of these women and 60 men will now be offered the opportunity to recycle, or repeat, the mountain phase of the training.

For the rest of the students, their next stop, starting Sunday, will be Camp Rudder at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they will begin jungle training, the final step in their efforts to earn a Ranger tab. 

The soldiers are part of a pilot program this year to allow women to participate in Ranger School. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said that he expects the pilot program to be extended for at least a couple more rounds of Ranger School. The move is another step toward erasing historic discrepancies within the military that have contributed to a perception that women were second-class soldiers, advocates of the change say. If they pass, the women would not serve as Rangers, but would instead earn the tab, which could offer them additional credibility with fellow soldiers.

All of these students have demonstrated “grit, refusal to quit, tactical competence, and perhaps most importantly, teamwork while under extreme individual conditions,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga.

The Ranger students, including the three women – all West Point graduates – began the mountain phase of their training near Dahlonega, Ga., on July 11.

The swamp training, as with all phases of Ranger School, is intense. In February 1995, four soldiers died during swamp training, due to “severely lowered body temperatures” after conducting military exercises, including building rope bridges, in chest-deep water for an extended period of time. Four others, suffering from hypothermia, were sent to the hospital. Though this is unlikely to be a problem in the summer, the swamp phase will test the Ranger students in a number of ways. ​

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It will include 17 days of “extended platoon level operations” in the “costal swamp environment” near Valparaiso, Fla. During this time, there will be two jumps for those soldiers who are airborne-qualified. The training also will feature four days of “waterborne operations,” including small boat movements and stream crossings, as well as 10 days of field training with student-led patrols. All of this training is meant to simulate warfighting in the jungle.

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At this point, the students are two-thirds of the way done with Ranger School, notes Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning. 

“I was very impressed with the students’ toughness at leading platoon-sized patrols in the North Georgia Mountains during this extremely hot summer,” he said in a statement issued by the Ranger School. “The coastal swamps of Florida will continue to test the students,” he added. “Only the best will be successful and earn the Ranger Tab.”