UPDATE 2: There have been several new posts since this went up 15th May, click the Category link to “Rangers and Rangerettes” to see them all. Yes, they will go to Infantry Officer Basic.
UPDATE: the first of several follow-up posts, A Funny Thing Happened this Week, has been up since Thursday and it adds a few more details from teh cascade of information flowing from the unhappy implementers of this latest outburst from the Good Idea Fairy. In the light of the comment interest in this post, we’ll post links to other, forthcoming updates here as well. Now back to the original post:
It was clear that nobody’s opinion was being solicited. The message came from the Chief of Staff of the Army, and the order seems to have come from echelons above him: Ranger School will admit women within a few months. And the women will pass, whatever it takes.
Female officers have complained that the lack of the school credential disadvantages them for promotions and commands, and in an election year their complaints have found champions among the political appointees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In a Department whose highest priority is the Secretary’s million-dollar Gulfstream commute, and that has lost interest in two ongoing wars and a dozen other flashpoints where soldiers risk their lives daily, a stroke of a pen can upend a 60-year-old course that embodies a tradition with roots in the 18th Century.
And it just did.
The Ranger Training Brigade has been told to roll the welcome mat and the first class could be 03/13 but will definitely be 05/13 at the latest. Each class in the remainder of FY 13 will receive five to eight women, and the treatment, mentoring, nurturing and ultimate success of those female candidates will be intensively managed by the Chief of Staff and the Sergeant Major of the Army, not to mention civilian appointees. The male candidates in the same courses are not of interest to the command, as long as they don’t interfere with or criticize the women. Even the timing of the feminized classes was established for political reasons: to ensure that a fait accompli of female Ranger attendees, if not graduates is presented to the incoming SecDef and Secretary of the Army if, as the current leaders think likely, their patron is defeated in November. They did not want to put women in class 1/13, which starts in October, to prevent Congress from intervening before the elections, but 2/13 is an outside possibility.
Current Ranger graduates, Ranger veterans, and the Ranger units and Ranger training establishment were never consulted about the decision. Officers who argued against it in Pentagon meetings have already been dismissed or shunted into career-ending punishment assignments.
The RTB has not been directed that all female candidates must pass regardless of performance, and Ranger Instructors will retain a limited ability to dismiss an individual underperforming woman from the course, as long as “enough” women remain to please the higher-ups. But they will have to justify every dismissal to the highest levels of command, who have made their intention clear. Regardless of performance, the majority of women attendees must pass — at least as high a graduating percentage as the men in the same class. For the first time in Ranger history, graduation will be guaranteed — for some.
Currently, the RTB closely monitors candidate performance at the school, and notes the following statistical details about course failures/dropouts:
- 60% of all Ranger School failures occur in the first 3 days (“RAP Week”): RPFT, Land Nav, Footmarch, CWSA.
- 30% of all Ranger School failures occur due to Personal Reasons: Admin, Lack of Motivation, Special Circumstances.
- 10% of all Ranger School failures occur due to Academics: Patrols, Peers, Serious Observation Report, Medical Issues.
- Only 2.2% of all Ranger School failures are due to Patrols (Academic).
- Only 5% of all Ranger School failures are due to Patrols, Patrols/Peers, Patrols/Peers/Spots (Academic).
- 50.13% Overall Graduation Rate last 6 years (FY 06-FY 11) 3
- 37.2% Ranger Graduates Recycle at least 1x Phase of Ranger School
- 75% of those who complete RAP week will eventually pass the Darby Phase and move on to the Mountain Phase. Darby Recycle Rate is approximately 15%.
- 94% of those who start the Mountain Phase will eventually pass and move on to the Florida Phase. Mountain Recycle Rate is approximately 18%.
- 98% of those who start Florida Phase will eventually pass and graduate Ranger School. Florida Recycle Rate is approximately 18%.
The three events that cause most students to recycle or fail Ranger School are the Ranger Physical Fitness Test (49x Push-ups, 59x Sit-ups, 5-mile run in under 40x minutes, and 6x Pull-ups) land navigation, and foot march. Success in those events significantly increases your chance of graduating.
That sergeant major, Dennis L. Smith, just retired (in the nick of time). The standards he outlines here are the same standards that have been in effect for decades, but they’re about to change.
The instructors and cadre have been advised that any public statement is a career ender, and those that have spoken to WeaponsMan.com have done so at considerable personal career risk. Their input wasn’t sought beforehand, and it sure as hell isn’t wanted now.
If physical fitness standards are sex-normed for the women, as Army standards overall are, and women are carefully preselected (trained up in land nav, only strong swimmers) then they can get past that initial 60% drop and have a decent chance of passing. Right now, the plan is for women officers only, and for them to have as much as a two month train-up prior to the course. If the women beat the 50% attrition rate of men, expect a publicity blitz. Some attrition means the initial 5 to 8 in the first class will be winnowed down to a publicity-friendly 3 or 4 junior-officer graduates, a number of whom are likely to be “legacies” of military families and already fast-tracked for promotion.
The question is, is the purpose of Ranger School to prepare leaders for combat or to provide careerist officers with a shiny ticket-punch? The Chief of Staff has answered the question, and his answer conforms to what appears to be his overall policy: get the Army firmly on a peacetime bureaucratic footing, and banish the unpleasant lessons of combat. It’s still unclear whether training evolutions that women would have difficulty with will be dropped or re-normed for all students or just for the women. The introduction of women to Airborne School in the 1970s resulted in a massive easing of the challenge to all troopers, with low levels of attrition coming from arbitrary mind-games replacing high levels of attrition from physical failure. But that could be done without consequence, because the main point of airborne school was simply learning to parachute, something that’s possible for any healthy person.
In Ranger School, one possibility is sex-norming various standards, to prevent the credibility damage that the feminized jump school suffered. The command-preferred approach is to lower standards across the board now, before the classes containing the women. allowing the initial class of women to claim they met the same standards as the men. While those decisions haven’t all been taken yet, they need to be made within days, because planning for next year’s classes is already well underway.