In 2015 when three women graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School, it was the beginning of the process. Not the end.
In the last five years, 146 women have attempted the course. They have tried 213 times — some of them have done it more than once. 54 have graduated. One earned the tab this week.
Those numbers are being kept by a West Point women’s group. They have been monitoring the course since the first women arrived at Fort Benning.
Women first graduated from West point in 1980. Sue Fulton was in that class. She has spent her post-Army career fighting for equality, inclusion and diversity. Ranger School was a key piece of that fight.
“It was the ultimate credential,” Fulton said. “The fact that women graduated Ranger School was proof women belonged in the Army.”
Army Ranger School is difficult. It is designed that way to teach combat leadership. And it’s been hard since it started in 1952.
Columbus judge Tasca Hagler has come to know many of the 54 women who have earned tabs. She has opened her Historic District home to some of them over the last five years. She has seen a common thread.
Over the years, she has seen what motivated them.
“They didn’t want a watered-down tab,” Hagler said. “They didn’t want someone to give them a tab. They simply wanted the opportunity to show they could do it. They could earn the tab just like the men who were earning the tab.”
When the women started the course in 2015, a group of U.S. Military Academy female alums took particular interest in the women and the process. Journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon has covered the Army’s gender integration.
She wrote “Ashley’s War,” the story of Ashley White, a National Guard solider killed in Afghanistan while attached to the Rangers.
“The West Point women to me were one of the most fascinating parts of this story,” Lemmon said. “They were everything for these young women. … To me it was about the continuity of history, They had broken ground at West Point. These young women stood on their shoulders.”
Less than half the men who enter the course pass. For women since 2015, it’s about 1 in 4. In the time that the 54 women have gradated, there have been more than 7,000 Ranger School students earn tabs.
The first year, three women graduated. None the next year. In the last three years — since Armor and Infantry have been opened to women — females are graduating in larger numbers as this graphic shows.
Fulton says the numbers of women now passing tell an important story.
“That says to a lot of people don’t let anything convince you you shouldn’t try,” Fulton said. “It is not impossible until you decide it’s impossible.”
Note: Series video editor Karien Graf