Women serving in the U.S. Army have been making strides over the years, but only a few are able to join infantry and armoured combat units and graduate from the military’s most gruelling training course at its Ranger School.
Statistics say that only about 40 per cent of men successfully complete the course while just about 25 per cent of students – both male and female – graduate without having to repeat or recycle at least one phase of the rigorous course.
A 29-year-old woman from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, wowed many recently when she completed the challenging 62-day training course without recycling.
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Sgt. 1st Class Janina Simmons, who completed the U.S. Army Ranger School Friday, also became the first African-American female soldier to graduate from the course.
The two-month course is designed to test stamina and endurance, and it includes several vigorous physical activities and tests, long patrols conducted with little or no sleep and marches carrying a heavy combat load, said USA Today.
Simmons now joins a dozen women who have completed the course, giving her the right to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger tab.
“I’m excited. It’s surreal,” Simmons told ConnectingVets after her feat. “I’m humbled to be here…62 days of training and I made it the first time through.”
This is not the first time Simmons is making history. In 2018, she became the first woman to win the Fort Jackson qualifier for the Bataan Memorial Death March.
“Simmons completed the 16-mile ruck march in two hours and 52 minutes, carrying 25.8 pounds in her rucksack. By around mile 12, she had overcome all of her competitors. She remained in first place for the last four miles,” said U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
The Ranger School, started in 1952, is a 62-day course described as the Army’s premier infantry leadership course.
“You don’t just get qualified to be a Ranger on a whim. Rangers have to be ready to embark upon dangerous special ops missions at a moment’s notice. These are the soldiers who go busting down doors with guns a-blazing deep in enemy territory, softening up the resistance for the regular troops,” a report by Army Times said.
Women have served in combat situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions, while the military has continued to open a collective number of jobs to female service members.
However, women had, until 2015, been banned from engaging in ground combat specialties, such as infantry, artillery and tanks largely due to arguments that those jobs require physical strength, said the USA Today.
It was, therefore, a moment of joy for women campaigners when the Army launched a historic effort to open Ranger School to female applicants three years ago. The decision came after the Pentagon ordered the services to open ground combat fields to women by 2016.
Out of the 19 women who originally volunteered in April 2015, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver became the first women to earn the coveted Ranger Tab that August. A third woman graduated that October, said Military.com.
The removal of the restriction has also allowed many firsts in subsequent years for women both serving in combat roles and attending the arduous military schooling.
This includes the first female Marine to graduate from Winter Mountain Leaders Course and the first female enlisted airman to attempt Special Operations Weather Teams (SOWT) training.
Simmons will now contend with several women including Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelly, who was the first female, non-commissioned officer (NCO) to graduate from the school in 2018.
“I need more NCOs to get out there…I have to lead from the front. It’s good to speak from experience. When you have soldiers who say ‘I don’t know if I can do that,” I can say ‘well, I did it and so can you,” said Simmons.
The 29-year-old has so many job options available for her, though she admits that she has to “sit down and re-sort her goals.”