Skeptical about training female Rangers

Now that we have two female graduates from the United States Army Ranger School, I find that I am somewhat skeptical (unconvinced but trying to have an open mind) on the wisdom of sending women through the school.

First, a disclaimer. I am a graduate of the Ranger School, having earned my tab in 1971, admittedly a time far removed from today's world, but the Ranger School I attended then is not so much different from now. Second, my congratulations to all the members of the graduating Ranger classes; their achievement should be celebrated.

My skepticism arises from several factors. First is the overwhelming amount of effort put into getting women into the course and to get two of them to the end. Even before the 20 women were selected, there was a concentrated effort to prepare them and the cadre at the school. Once these arrangements were in place and 19 of the 20 women arrived, there were multiple failures in passing course requirements that led to an attrition rate of 90 percent, and the women who graduated from the 62-day program had recycled through several phases and took an additional 67 days to finish. Their original class graduated June 15.

Next was the attention on the school and cadre, as well as the pressure on the officers of the training brigade. I don't question the actions of the Ranger cadre in fairly grading and evaluating all the Ranger students. I have never met a more professional group of soldiers. But from the Secretary of Defense on down, there was an anticipation of results that was not good for the Army or the school. While the attitude of the cadre at the school might have been to "let the chips fall where they may," the higher commands were scrutinizing and evaluating the actions at the school. They expected results (read graduates) and would not look kindly on the failure to graduate at least some women from the course. How this scrutiny affected Ranger School operations remains to be seen.

Finally is the question of what comes next. The two female graduates are both officers, graduates of the U.S. Military Academy. They are more than just Ranger qualified; they are highly trained and supposedly slated for more demanding positions. How will the Army treat them? As celebrities for publicity or as professional soldiers? Will they be assigned to the Ranger Brigade and participate in combat operations? Will they go to their follow-on assignments within the Army at large? Will they remain at the school now as the Army tries to get more females through the course? That question begs another. Will the Army stop and evaluate the experiment or will it declare it a success and bring more women into the course?

Again, the two female graduates are officers. Can enlisted women be expected to perform at the same level of commitment? Was the level of effort, the time and money spent, worth the results?

There is undoubtedly a large number of after-action reports to sift through and read, and the views of the Ranger students and the Ranger School cadre need to be carefully considered. In the end, I suspect, the momentum toward opening up combat positions to women will overcome any objections, no matter how reasoned; hence the reason for my skepticism.

— William Sabata spent 25 years in the Army and was a professor of military science at N.C. State University from 1990 to 1993 except while deployed during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-91. He wrote this for The News & Observer.

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