On Monday, 19 women began U.S. Army Ranger School alongside 380 of their brothers-in-arms; it is the first time female soldiers are negotiating the grueling course, which lasts two months in three different simulated combat environments and is notorious for its grueling challenges. Candidates are given little food or sleep and are expected to exceed standards when leading patrols of their peers on combat missions.
The first integrated class of the course comes after decades of debate over the role of women in the military and whether they should be permitted to serve in direct combat roles, something critics say women should not be allowed to do for a variety of reasons, among them the supposed physical fitness disparity between men and women. So far, it would appear that argument falls flat.
Day One of Ranger School begins with a stricter version of the Army Physical Fitness Test, and all candidates must meet the standards or will be washed out immediately: 49 pushups in two minutes, 59 situps in two minutes, a five-mile run in 40 minutes or less and six chin-ups. Done back-to-back, the events have a cumulative effect of wearing out candidates, and because its Ranger School, pushups or situps that might be counted elsewhere in the Army are omitted from the candidate's final score for not being done with correct form. What results is an infamous initial hurdle for prospective Rangers, many of whom may be known as "physical studs" in their home units, but don't quite cut it in the Army's premier leadership course.
Taking all of this into account, critics have long alleged that few women could make it past the first day, let alone the rest of the course.
So, what happened? Only three women failed the test along with 78 men. Doing the quick math, that means 84.2 percent of women passed... as did 79.5 percent of men.
You read that right. Under the same standards, when gender was not a factor in assessment, more women than men passed Day One of Ranger School.
This isn't a battle between the sexes, or at least, it shouldn't be. Every soldier taking this course has proved to their commander they have the potential to be a Ranger; simply becoming a candidate is an honor in itself.
But what it should demonstrate is the ridiculousness of continuing to state that women are not up to the task when it comes to leading troops in combat. Are all women up for this? Of course not, but neither are all men, easily proved by the fact that 78 men failed to get past the first day.
There's a lot of the course still left, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that no woman will make it to graduation, but this test, along with the first two weeks of Ranger School, usually see the most candidates wash out. Even if just ten women make it to the third week, chances are likely that June will witness the first women earn the coveted Ranger Tab and prove themselves capable of combat leadership.
And then, we can hopefully forget gender and focus on a warrior's abilities.