First two women to finish Ranger School talk about their experiences

Fort Benning — The first two women to successfully complete the U.S. Army’s rigorous Ranger School spoke publicly about their experiences for the first time here this Thursday.

“It’s definitely awesome to be part of the history,” said 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, 25, a helicopter pilot from Arizona

Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, a military policewoman from Connecticut, said: “I feel pretty much the same way… I came here to try to be a better leader and improve myself and I feel like I did that.”

They will join 94 men at a Ranger School graduation ceremony here Friday. Both West Point graduates, Griest and Haver are making history as the U.S. military wrestles with placing women in combat roles. The Army and other military services are considering whether to seek exemptions from a 2013 order ending the ban on women in combat. Decisions are expected by Jan. 1.

Even though they have earned the right to wear the “Ranger” tab on their uniforms, Griest and Haver aren’t allowed to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, a Special Operations unit. But their Ranger training, the Army said, dramatically improves their chances of being promoted.

The Ranger School — which the Army describes as its “premier combat leadership course” — teaches students how to overcome fatigue, hunger and stress as they train in the woodlands at Fort Benning, the mountains in North Georgia and a coastal swamp in Florida. The numerous requirements include a swim test, a land navigation exam, a 12-mile march in three hours, four days of military mountaineering, three parachute jumps and 27 days of mock combat patrols.

Griest and Haver were held to the same standards as the men who are graduating with them, senior military leaders told reporters in a briefing here Thursday.

“Our standards have been met,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold, the senior noncommissioned officer in charge at the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. “We didn’t have to change our standards.

“These two soldiers have proven that — regardless of gender — those standards can be met,” he continued. “Everything is training-based in the Army. If you train hard enough and you prepare well enough, you are going to do well.”

Further, the Army confirmed the two women repeated some of the training, requiring them to spend 123 days in a 62-day course. About a third of the soldiers who enter the school repeat at least one phase of the school, compounding their fatigue. A third woman is repeating the mountain training now.

Arnold said he “had money on Haver and Griest from the beginning” because they “crushed” their pre-Ranger School training.

“They stood out far above the rest,” he said.

Nick Ireland of Michigan and Wes Summers — who completed the Ranger School with Griest and Haver — shrugged at questions about women participating in the grueling courses.

“It’s pretty stressful so you are worried about your squad and working with your squad,” Ireland said. “You don’t really notice as long as everyone is [working hard] for the team. That is all that really matters.”

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