ON FRIDAY, two women will stand alongside 94 men — and thousands more in history — to receive their U.S. Army Ranger tabs. For the men, the new pins on their uniforms will represent an opportunity for future service. For the women, the first to graduate from Ranger School, the pins will be little more than badges of honor: Though the female soldiers have passed every test thrown their way, they still cannot audition to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment.
In January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced an end to a policy that had barred women from serving in combat roles since 1994. In January, the military will have to open all positions to women unless there is a valid reason to keep some closed to safeguard military effectiveness. The success of the two soon-to-be Ranger School graduates suggests that, at least in most cases, such reasons don’t exist.
Service chiefs might opt to keep the infantry and some elite units such as the Ranger Regiment male-only, on the grounds that those positions are among the most physically demanding. But Ranger School itself is one of the toughest tests the military has to offer. Women have already shown they have the mettle to make it through a regimen so grueling that 45 percent of those who attempt it fail every year. This year, 19 female hopefuls tried out. That was narrowed down to eight, then three and now two. The 94 men remaining come from an original pool of 380.
To join the 75th Ranger Regiment, these men will have to pass additional tests. Many will not make it, and many — perhaps more — women would not either. Setting so high a bar for those who wish to join the armed forces’ elite ranks is the right way to keep the country and those who fight for it safe. Yet if anyone, male or female, clears that bar, that person deserves to fill the role. The U.S. Navy has recognized that. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon W. Greenert said Tuesday that he is preparing to allow women to become Navy SEALs if they can meet the unit’s requirements. The same should be the case for the Ranger Regiment, Green Berets and infantry in general.
In the wake of Mr. Panetta’s initial announcement, some critics worried that the armed forces would lower standards for service to give women a fair shot. In Ranger School, standards did not go down at all: A few good women just rose to meet them. Now it’s on the armed forces to rise to the occasion, too, and let serve all who are qualified to do so.