WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The physically demanding Army Ranger School is temporarily opening its doors to women soldiers for the first time for an assessment that could lead to a permanently co-ed program.
The two-month course is a test of soldier's strength and stamina, testing them on long patrols and marching with heavy loads. It's not a requirement for advancement within the Army, but sets those who complete the program apart from their peers.
The U.S. Army said about 60 women volunteered and met the requirements to join the Ranger School for the one-time assessment beginning April 20.
"Those who meet the standards and graduate from the course will receive a certificate and be awarded the Ranger tab," said Lt. Col. Ben Garrett, an Army spokesman.
Upon competition of the first class including women, the Army will make a decision whether to permanently allow women into the program.
Doing so would potentially increase the combat presence of women in conflict zones, something that's received some criticism in the military.
"The overwhelming majority of those who have experienced direct ground combat are in favor of keeping the exclusion in order to preserve the combat power of those units," said Gregory Newbold, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general. "What I'm talking about is the inevitable consequences of human dynamics."
Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, welcomed the move.
"We think women should be permitted to compete for everything," she said.