Potential male and female Ranger course students complete obstacles during the Ranger Training Assessment Course on March 14 at Fort Benning, Ga. (Markeith Horace/ U.S. Army)

The first-ever version of the elite Army Ranger School to include female students is set to begin April 20 with at least 12 women participating, following the recent completion of a required prerequisite course by six more female soldiers.

The latest wave of women passed the 17-day Ranger Training and Assessment Course (RTAC) on March 19, doubling the amount approved to attend, Army officials said. The assessment course resembles aspects of the grueling 62-day Ranger School, which includes phases in the jungle, mountains and swamp and is considered among the toughest courses in combat in the world.

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Top Army officials opened the Ranger School course beginning April 20 to women on a one-time basis as the Defense Department grapples with what jobs should be opened to women for the first time as part of a greater integration of the sexes in the military. The women who pass will not be allowed to become elite members of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, but will be considered trail blazers by many and allowed to wear the service’s prestigious Ranger tab.

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The latest assessment course included 34 women, of which six (17.6 percent) passed, and 85 men, of which 25 (29.4 percent) finished. It’s the third preparatory RTAC class since the Army announced it was integrating the Ranger School course later this month. One more RTAC course will be held beginning Friday, with those who pass joining those who made it through the previous three RTAC at Ranger School.

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Historically, more than half of the soldiers who complete the RTAC course go on to successfully complete Ranger School, Army officials said.

A female soldier climbs to the top of an obstacle at Fort Benning, Ga., last fall. (U.S. Army)

There’s a fair amount of variation in how women — and men, for that matter — have fared in the recent RTAC courses. In the frigid version that ran from Feb. 6 to Feb. 21, one of 17 women and 35 of 83 men passed. The first RTAC with women concluded Jan. 30 with five of 26 women and 53 of 96 men completing it, Army officials said.

Including women in Ranger School and other elite courses has been debated by active-duty troops and veterans alike. Some have argued that if women can meet the requirements for physically demanding jobs like infantryman, they should be able to fill a job. Others say that there are too many cultural and logistical issues to allow the women to serve in units that currently only include men.