It has been five years since the first women graduated from the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning.

Capt. Kristen Griest and Capt. Shaye Haver were the first women to accomplish what more than 70,000 male soldiers had done before them — complete the Army’s toughest combat training course. It challenges soldiers mentally and physically for 61 days or more.

But Griest and Haver were among the first women to get the opportunity to crash the camouflage ceiling.

In April 2015 when the U.S. Army opened up its most demanding training course to women for the first time. Dozens of women from across the Army sought the opportunity, 19 were selected for the pilot program. For all, they knew it was a one-shot deal.

It was a profound cultural and organizational change for an organization that can be slow to adopt change.

“I felt like we were a football team and just needed to get one person into the end zone,” Griest said. “And if I was running interference for Shaye that was cool. We were all in it together.”

By the end of the first week, eight were left. Griest, Haver, and Lisa Jaster were among them. All were West Point graduates who were looking for an opportunity to prove themselves. Griest and Haver graduated in August and Jaster, an Army Reservist, finished the school in October, six months after she started. All three women talked exclusively to the WRBL News 3 this month.

It was an accomplishment because more than half the men who start the school wash out for one reason or another — failure to meet the demanding physical standards, lack of respect from their peers, poor performance on small-unit patrols or even injury.

Col. Dave Fivecoat and former Fort Benning commanding Gen. Scott Miller — both West Point grads themselves — were at the helm when the women walked through the gates of Camp Darby on the eastern edge of Fort Benning.

“I did get a chance to talk to Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Odierno before I went in,” said Miller, now the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces — Afghanistan. “He asked my thoughts on it because he was considering opening up the course. From my background, particularly in the Special Operations community. What I said was we’ve been gender-integrated for many years. So I have had the opportunity to see women in combat, men, and women in combat, So it wasn’t that new of an idea to me.”

Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at the time of the gender-integration pilot program, had many of the same experiences.

“I had had experience of working with women throughout my entire military career,” Fivecoat said. “Went to West Point from 1989 to ‘93, which was about a decade after West Point integrated. And had worked with some really high-quality, top-quality women throughout my Army career.”

Army policy was catching up with what was happening in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women were already in combat and many soldiers like Fivecoat and Miller knew that.

“The change was happening,” Haver said. “And I think what the Ranger School School did was help give facts, concrete evidence to people who couldn’t conceptualize what it was going to look like to have females in units that previously didn’t have women in it.”

Note: Series video editor Karien Graf