Capt. Kristen Griest, left, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver are shown here at their Ranger School graduation ceremony Aug. 21. The Army announced Wednesday that it was opening the school on a permanent basis to women for the first time. The decision came after Griest and Haver became the first female soldiers to graduate. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

The Army announced Wednesday that it is opening its legendary Ranger School to women on a full-time basis, following the historic graduation last month of two female soldiers.

The school, with headquarters at Fort Benning, Ga., has been a centerpiece of the military’s ongoing research on integrating women into more jobs in combat units. Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, a military policy officer, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, 25, an Apache helicopter pilot, became the first women to graduate from school Aug. 21, after spending months alongside men enduring the grueling training.

[Focus and determination marked female soldiers’ path to Ranger Tab]

Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement that the service must ensure that the opportunity afforded to Griest and Haver is available to “all soldiers who are qualified and capable,” and that the Army is continuing to assess how to select, train and retain its best soldiers. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the service’s top officer, added in the same statement that combat readiness remains the Army’s top priority.

“Giving every qualified soldier the opportunity to attend the Ranger Course, the Army’s premier small unit leadership school, ensures we are maintaining our combat readiness today, tomorrow and for future generations,” Milley said.

The course lasts a minimum of 61 days, and can take substantially longer for anyone who is allowed to “recycle,” or try one of the school’s phases more than once. Many Ranger students are recycled several times.

The graduation of Griest and Haver has increased pressure on the military to integrate women into more jobs that are still closed, such as infantryman. Pentagon leaders made a landmark decision in January 2013 to open all jobs in the military to women, but gave the services until this fall to make recommendations on whether some jobs should remain closed.

The first female soldiers completed the Army's rigorous Ranger School, putting a spotlight on the debate over opening all combat roles to women. (AP)

Ranger School opened to women for the first time in April, with 20 women qualifying for the course and 19 electing to attempt it. Griest and Haver are the only ones to graduate, although a third woman has advanced to the school’s third and final phase at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and could graduate as soon as Sept. 18. Like Griest and Haver, she is an officer and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

[Last woman in Ranger School moves one phase short of graduation]

The Army will remove one requirement that Griest, Haver and their female contemporaries in Ranger School had this year: passing a preliminary 17-day Ranger Training and Assessment Course (RTAC) at Fort Benning prior to attending Ranger School. The service required it for women trying out this year, but will not do so in the future. Instead, it will be strongly recommended to prepare for Ranger School, as it is for male service members.

Ranger School has faced scrutiny from some veterans and active-duty troops who are opposed to further integrating women into the military, but its leaders have insisted that they did not lower the standards to allow Griest and Haver to pass.

“We could have invited each of you to guest walk the entire course, and you would still not believe,” wrote Maj. Jim Hathaway, the second in command at the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade that oversees the school in a Facebook post that went viral last month. “We could have video recorded every patrol and you would still say that we ‘gave’ it away. Nothing we say will change your opinion.”

The service chiefs are expected to make their recommendations on what units to keep closed to women in coming days. Milley has not signaled whether he will integrate Special Forces and other elite units, but the bar to get approval to do so is expected to be high.

Army Ranger candidates Lt. Shaye Haver and Cpt. Kristen Griest want to see more women in combat units and prove that they can keep up. (AP)

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