The number of women expected to attend the elite Army Ranger School for the first time in April has inched up to six, following the completion of a recent preparatory course by a female Apache helicopter pilot, Army officials said Tuesday.
The woman is a first lieutenant stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., and was the sole female soldier to make it through a recent Ranger Training and Assessment Course (RTAC), a 17-day program run by the Army National Guard at Fort Benning, Ga., and designed to prepare soldiers for Ranger School and identify those who are not ready.
“She did well, and given the opportunity and she decides to take advantage of that opportunity, I would expect her to acquit herself pretty well at Ranger School,” said Maj. William “Shep” Woodard, an officer who runs the course.
The assessment course resembles aspects of Ranger School, and is designed to test a soldier’s physical and mental fitness. The first phase of RTAC include a physical fitness test, a swim test, land navigation and a six-mile march. The second phase includes a field training exercise to assess whether soldiers can lead others and patrol correctly.
The effort is part of a broader Defense Department effort to assess how the military can expand the kind of jobs that are open to women. Top Army officials announced in January that women would be allowed in the Ranger School class beginning April 20.
The move has been debated by active-duty troops and veterans alike. Some believe that if women can meet the requirements, they should be able to fill a job. Others argue that there are too many difficult issues to allow the successful integration of women into components of the military like the all-male infantry.
Overall, 17 women and 83 men took part in the recent preparatory course, which ran from Feb. 6 to Feb. 21. Thirty-five men passed, yielding a pass rate of 36 percent. The typical pass rate for RTAC is above 50 percent, but cold weather may have been a factor in reducing it.
The first assessment course that included women wrapped up Jan. 30 and five of 26 women and 53 of 96 men completed it. Two more assessment courses will take place before women first attempt Ranger School. They are scheduled for March 6 through March 21 and April 3 through April 18.
About 40 women each are expected to take part in those assessment courses before Ranger School opens on April 20.