For more than 120 days, 1st Lts. Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver have ground it out at Ranger School, the Army’s famously difficult school designed to build elite leaders capable of withstanding the rigors of combat. They’ve withstood fearsome weather, exhausting hikes, sleepless nights and simulated combat patrols designed to test their reaction time, teamwork and tenacity under fire.
On Friday, the two women will become the first female soldiers ever to graduate from the course at Fort Benning, Ga., receiving the coveted black and yellow Ranger Tab alongside 94 male counterparts. Griest, a military police officer from Orange, Conn., and Haver, an Apache helicopter pilot from Copperas Cove, Tex., are among a group of 20 women who qualified to attend the first gender-integrated Ranger School beginning April 20, and the only two female soldiers to complete it to date.
The graduation of Haver and Griest, both in their 20s and alumnae of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., increases pressure on the Army to integrate women into more combat jobs. They have not previously been identified by the Army, but The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia were able to do so after observing Ranger School training several times this year.
Ranger School was opened to women for the first time in April as the Army assesses how to integrate women into more jobs in combat units across the service. That followed a January 2013 decision by senior Pentagon leaders to open all jobs to women, with the services granted until this fall to make recommendations on whether anything should remain closed. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is expected to rule on each request by Jan. 1.
The women — like some of their male counterparts — faced an arduous process leading into graduation. One of the 20 who qualified opted not to attend before the training even started, and the others were whittled to eight female soldiers within days following an initial four-day assessment that requirements ranging from chin-ups and push-ups to an exhausting 12-mile road march through Fort Benning’s hills while carrying a full combat load.
All eight women then failed the first Darby Phase twice, and only three — Griest, Haver and the third remaining soldier still in the mountaineering phase — were allowed to try Ranger School again. They do so as a “Day 1 recycle,” an option that is offered on occasion to both men and women who excel in some aspects of Ranger School but fall short in something specific that can be improved.
Staying in training allowed the women to continue — but also drastically lengthened how long they were subjected to the physical rigors and lack of sleep and food associated with Ranger School. Any student who completes each phase of training on the first try graduates in about two months. Griest and Haver and a handful of their male colleagues took four, with the remaining woman not able to graduate earlier than Sept. 18 if she continues to advance.
Haver graduated high school in Texas in 2008 with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as one of her classmates, according to a story in her hometown newspaper, the Copperas Cove Herald. She ran cross country in high school, and graduated from West Point in 2012.
Griest, who has been selected for promotion to captain, was the distinguished honor graduate last December in a preparatory pre-Ranger School course run by her unit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, according to a Facebook page for her unit. She also has run competitively, and graduated from West Point in 2011.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Griest is a captain. While she has been selected for the rank, she has not yet worn it. It is expected she will be promoted in a small ceremony Friday after the Ranger School graduation.