FORT BENNING, Ga. - The first female soldiers to complete the Army's rigorous Ranger School pinned on their black-and-gold Ranger tab at a raucous graduation ceremony Friday, capping their history-making week and putting a spotlight on the debate over women in combat.
With family members, friends, and an unusually large media contingent looking on, First Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas, and Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Conn., graduated alongside 94 male soldiers on the shore of "Victory Pond."
The women drew national attention for finishing the nine-week program designed to test young soldiers' leadership abilities as the Pentagon approaches decisions on opening all combat positions to women who meet military standards.
Their success casts new attention on the obstacles that remain to women who aspire to join all-male combat units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment. Although Haver and Griest are now Ranger-qualified, no women are eligible for the elite regiment, although officials say it is among special operations units likely to be opened to women eventually.
Griest, 26, is a military police officer and has served one tour in Afghanistan. Haver, 25, is a pilot of Apache helicopters. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Of 19 women who began the Ranger course, Haver and Griest are the only two to finish so far; one is repeating a prior phase of training in hopes of graduating soon.
Addressing the graduates, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller said no one should doubt that all 96 graduates met Ranger standards, regardless of their sex, and he congratulated them on proving their mettle.
"You'll leave Victory Pond today with a small piece of cloth on your shoulder, but more importantly you carry the title of Ranger from here on out," he said. Miller, who gained his Ranger tab 30 years ago this month, is commander of all Army infantry and armor training and education, including the Ranger School.
The Army opened Ranger School to women for the first time this year.