I’ve been following the entire discussion about women going to Ranger school for a little while now. Like since I commissioned. Back when I was at Fort Benning for Officer Candidate school, we had the discussion about women going to the school. Was it really about the PT or was it a leadership school. For a bunch of officer candidates, we really didn’t know but like any group with time on their hands, we argued passionately and solved the world’s problems. But it makes a difference whether Ranger school tests your leadership skills AND your PT skills or just your PT skills.
So GEN Odierno has spoken publicly about women going to Ranger School. As I wrote last week, the whole WITA thing is not that big of a deal. Women have already been serving below the battalion level since Iraq kicked off, we just haven’t been doing it legally. Iraq proved not only that America did not care if it’s women came home in body bags (and what I mean by that is that the sight of a fallen female soldier inspired no national outcry any greater or any less than any male fallen soldier) but it also proved that women could hold their own in combat positions.
So now with formally placing women in maneuver battalions, we’re this much closer to opening up the combat arms to women. Cool, right? Yay, equality.
Let’s all take a step back from the punch bowl and discuss for one hot second about the reality of being a woman in the army and then lets talk about being the first woman to graduate from Ranger school. From a purely PT perspective, being a woman in the army today means that you earn your rank just like the man next to you, except that to score a 300 on your PT test, you have to run slower, you have to do fewer pushups. You have to do the same amount of situps. The argument can be made that women have to physically do less to achieve the same promotion points.
When I was selected for sergeant first class at seven years time in service, the biggest slap in the face came when I was told, well, it’s because you’re a woman. Gee, thanks. Guess nothing else mattered but the fact that I have breasts. Awesome.
Let’s put aside the 90s garrison army mentality that there is a direct correlation between your ability to run 4 miles in under 36 minutes and your leadership skills. Does the fact that I cannot run faster than my formation make me a lower calibre leader? Does the fact that there are men in my formation who can do more pull ups than me mean that I have less credibility than them? It certainly hasn’t affected my performance or my effectiveness until now. I would hope at this point in the history of our army, coming off a decade at war, that we’d be beyond the whole women can’t do as many pushups as men so we shouldn’t be allowed to lead men unless we can argument. So if we put aside the PT argument for just a teeny second, is there more to going to Ranger School than just PT? Is it about physical and mental toughness, the ability to make sound decisions when you’re broken down and worn out? Then maybe the number of pushups you have to do to get into the course shouldn’t matter. The ability to hang in there should.
Can a woman make it through Ranger school? Or maybe the question should be: should women be allowed to go? I guess a better question is why do we want women to go? We want women to go because when the day comes (and I don’t care if you like it or not, the day is coming when we will see a female infantry platoon leader), she’s going to have to face a world more shit than her male brethren. Nothing will shut up the punks in the formation faster than a woman wearing a tab. So should a woman be allowed to go?
Um, hell yes women should be allowed to go.
But that comes with some caveats. Ranger School is meant to be physically demanding, it’s meant to make an infantryman a better infantryman at small unit 3level tactics. It’s meant to push the Ranger Candidate to their breaking point and beyond, and not just physically. Mentally, too. But here’s the thing, too. Ranger School today is not the same as Ranger School a decade ago. I’ve listened to conversations where Rangers who went through a decade or more ago say that the Rangers today have it too easy. That they didn’t have to go through the same rigor as Rangers of old. Dude, every generation looks at the generation behind it and says some form of “back in my day, we had to walk uphill in four miles of snow and”…I think you get the idea.
Maybe this is incredibly naive of me, but slap a couple of female stickers on the port a potties, tell the RIs that they are not to attempt to get laid in exchange for passing any portion of the course, and make sure the RIs are no harder or no easier on the women going through the class. Because the ONLY way to make this a success, to allow the first women who go through the class to hold her head up and say I made it through Ranger School, is to make sure she passes the same damn course as the men. No gender norming. No extra shower runs (trust me, baby wipes and a canteen cup go a long way).
If we want to be equal, if we want to be able to say we made it through the elite course, then don’t make it any easier for us to pass. Don’t say we have to have the same attrition rates as the males. Let us pass or fail on our own merit just like the men. Maybe it takes a couple of years before a female makes it but when she earns that tab, only a world class douchebag will say oh, she just got it because she’s a female and they lowered the standards. Oh really? Where’s your tab?
Yeah, it’s going to take a while before a woman makes it through but when she does, she’ll know and the whole world will know that she made it because she met the standard, not because the standard met her.