On Friday, two insanely impressive women will become the first ever female Rangers to graduate from West Point Academy
This Friday, two women will graduate from West Point Academy and become the first women in history to join the elite Army Ranger force, a special operations element that specializes in raids and assaults in enemy-held territory. Captain Kristen Griest, an Airborne-qualified military police officer from Connecticut, and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Haver, an Apache helicopter pilot from Texas, successfully completed Army Ranger training—one of the most rigorous and demanding tests in the world.
This past January, the Pentagon announced that women would finally be able to enter Army Ranger School. Until President Obama's recent mandate to eliminate the ban on women holding combat roles, the U.S. military had denied them access to any and all of these positions and any tranining that could equip women for such roles. In numbers, we're talking 331,000 positions that women couldn't even hope to get for fear that they wouldn't hold up in combat scenarios.
When Obama lifted the ban, many believed that women would be given more lenient standards. The military guaranteed that wouldn't be the case, meaning Griest and Haver emerged as strong and as competent as any other male soldier who completed the traning. (This has also opened doors for women serving our country in other avenues—the Navy just announced it will open its elite SEAL team to females who can pass their equally grueling training regimen as well.)
Griest and Haver were part of the inaugural co-ed Ranger class, which contained 19 women. While they're the only two to receive that coveted Army Ranger tab, all but one of those 19 badass women survived the first four days of training—widely known as the harshest part of the course. The course is so rigorous, in fact, that only 40 percent of male soldiers in Ranger school ultimately graduate. So Griest and Haver are not only the first females to kick this course's ass, but they also triumphed where the majority of men have not.
What makes this program so damn hard? Well, for starters, Rangers-in-training have to navigate three distinct environments: woodlands, mountainous terrains, and swampland. For each terrain, soldiers must face a grueling obstacle course that makes a Spartan Race look like a rest day. In order to move to the next round, aspiring Rangers must scale walls, shimmy down ziplines, jump with parachutes from extraordinary heights, and survive intense hand-to-hand combat and wartime simulations—all within the most extreme conditions imaginable, such as severe temperature changes and inclement weather. (Try Tough Mudder's Newest Challenge: Tear Gas for a little taste of what these rockstars had to face.) Guts alone won't get you through one round, though. You'll also need mind-blowing strength and endurance. Soldiers must clock five miles under 40 minutes; complete a 12-mile foot march holding 35 pounds of gear in under three hours; master a hard core swim test that focuses on endurance; and overcome a round of 49 pushups, 59 sit-ups, and six chin-ups. And you thought 10 burpees were tough! (Make them even tougher with these Three Ways to Ramp Up Your Burpees.)
The program doesn't just test the physical strength of future soldiers; rather, it aims to push individuals to the breaking point—and then push them further. Why? To mimic the reality of the conditions they'll face and prepare them for worst case scenarios. Trainees subsist on an average of one meal per day and very few hours of sleep—they're woken up in the middle of the night to complete spontaneous training exercises. Throughout the course, soldiers face almost every possible fear—heights, venomous snakes, darkness, gunfights, and more—ensuring that they are fearless upon completion of the course. (Take that lesson home with 9 Fears to Let Go of Today.)
Needless to say, we're damn impressed by these ladies' accomplishment.
Since the position of female Ranger is unprecedented, the Pentagon has yet to determine which combat roles Haver and Griest (and all the women who follow in their footsteps!) will hold. But these two have certainly proven that they can hang with the even the toughest, strongest guys. (Check out another inspiring story: The Woman Who's Using Biking to Promote Gender Equality.)
"Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level. This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential," John M. McHugh, secretary of the army, said in a Pentagon press release. You go, girls!