Military to Train Women for Elite Combat Forces – But Can They Graduate?

Posted on June 24, 2013


I’m all for equal opportunity, but we must accept that it will be an exceptionally rare woman who can succeed as an Army Ranger or Navy SEAL.

Before he left the Department of Defense, one of SecDef Panetta’s mandates on the subject of women in combat was for the services to develop gender-neutral, job-specific physical standards, and this will be absolutely essential to integrating women into the combat arms while also maintaining the integrity of our military to accomplish its missions.  Now, on the heels of that directive, we have the decision to train women for the elite combat forces.  Notice the word train.  It will be up to the women to actually qualify, and we need to brace ourselves right now to accept the inevitability that very, very few women will succeed as Army Rangers or Navy SEALs.  Why am I so certain of this?  Because historically, and right now, very few men have succeeded as Rangers or SEALs.  There is a reason that these forces are called “elite!”

Let’s take a look at some current standards and statistics using the US Army Ranger School as our elite example.

First, a soldier must meet a higher physical standard than other soldiers just to be admitted to Ranger School.  Most soldiers must achieve at least a 60% score on a gender- and age- adjusted test of pushups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run (you can see the adjusted standards here).  The Ranger candidate, regardless of age, must achieve a 70% score in each physical fitness event at the standard for a 17-21 year old male… this amounts to 49 pushups and 59 sit-ups in two minutes… plus he must be able to achieve these standards which are not part of the usual test:

— at least 6 good pull-ups

— a 5-mile run in 40 minutes

— with a 35 lb rucksack, complete a 12-mile march in under 3 hours (15-minute miles), or a 15.5 mile foot march to Camp Darby in 4 hours, 39 minutes (18-minute miles).

This may not sound so hard, but minimum requirements at the outset of any course are a bit deceptive.  Indeed, the Army’s advice to those aspiring to the Ranger tab:

To be competitive in any of these physical tests, the future Ranger students must not strive for the minimum standards above, but must maximize their personal physical effort and strive for the following:

– Pushups – 80-100
– Situps – 80-100
– Chin ups – 15-20
– 2 mile run – under 13:00

“However, the most important pre-training exercise to do prior to Ranger school is walking fast in your boots with 50 pounds of weight on your back. You will do this every day you are at Ranger School. Running at least 5 miles, 3-4 times a week and swimming in uniform 2-3 times a week is recommended as well.”

Okay… now this is sounding a little harder, isn’t it?  Even with that advice, according to the Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning Georgia, the current failure rate for Ranger School is about 50% (of those failures, 60% come within the first three days).  Of the candidates who graduate – the toughest of the tough – fully 37% have to repeat at least one of the three phases.  This means that only one-third of the men who actually start Ranger School manage to get through it in their first attempt.  Allowing for those men who have to repeat some of the training, the overall graduation figure is still only one-half.  Keep in mind, all of the applicants already had to meet a higher fitness standard to start the school in the first place.

So what percentage of women do you suppose will make it through Ranger School?  I am certain that a few women are capable of meeting these physical challenges.  I am equally certain that they are very few.  As I commented under an earlier article, the successful female Ranger will not be a Demi Moore of GI Jane.  She will be a Brienne of Tarth, of Game of Thrones.  A very rare woman indeed.


To be continued tomorrow…


Related articles:

Why Allowing Women In Combat Won’t Make Much Difference in The Number of Female Generals

Women in Combat: SecDef’s Signature Just Recognizes Reality

Female Marines in the Infantry: First Two Didn’t Make It, But…

USMC to Allow Women in the Infantry