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U.S. Army declares elite Ranger School open to all servicewomen

"We continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation's needs," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Wednesday.

By Doug G. Ware
U.S. Army declares elite Ranger School open to all servicewomen
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that the Army's elite Rangers School is gender neutral. The announcement follows the graduation this year of two women at the Rangers School for the first time in history. Photo by Vartanov Anatoly/Shutterstock

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The United States Army on Wednesday formally announced its Ranger School is gender neutral -- meaning any man or woman can take the course if they meet the requirements, officials said.

The U.S. Military has been criticized for years due to the relatively low number of women in frontline combat positions. Two years ago, the Pentagon began a process intended to open such jobs to all women. Wednesday, part of that process was completed.

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"We must ensure that this training opportunity is available to all soldiers who are qualified and capable and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation's needs," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in a statement.

In April, 19 female candidates joined 381 males in training for the special Army tactical team at Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. At graduation, two women remained -- Capt. Kristen Griest and Lt. Shaye Haver -- and they became the first female Army Rangers in history.

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"The Army's number one priority is combat readiness and leader development is a function of combat readiness," Army Gen. Mark A. Milley said. "Giving every qualified soldier the opportunity to attend the Ranger Course, the Army's premier small unit leadership school, ensures we are maintaining our combat readiness today, tomorrow and for future generations."

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Although the idea of women in combat positions has been opposed by some, talk in the Pentagon about removing the gender restriction has been happening for years.

"Administrative restrictions prohibiting women from attending the Ranger course are suspended," an Army communications stated in September 2014.

The Army has said, though, that female Rangers will all be volunteers. Military officials are not allowed to designate any servicewoman for Ranger School. Also, the military branch said, all women entering the Ranger program must pass a pregnancy test.

Beyond that, servicewomen will have every opportunity to attend Ranger School.

"All women who successfully complete and graduate from the Ranger course will receive a graduation certificate and be awarded, and authorized to wear, the Ranger tab," the 2014 communique said.

After that, however, female Rangers are still barred from the Ranger Regiment -- which has its own set of requirements and selection process -- as well as infantry and most other ground-combat fields. However, all branches of the military have been ordered to lift the so-called "ground-combat exclusion" by 2016.

The Army, though, has already opened its combat engineer and field artillery military occupational specialties to women, the Army Times noted.

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Wednesday's declaration is the result of the Army's "Soldier 2020" initiative, announced in 2013, which is designed to train and deploy the best possible service members wherever they are needed.

"This effort includes opening previously closed positions and occupational specialties to women while maintaining our combat effectiveness," the Army said at the time. "Our recent wartime experience indicates there are few practical limits to the vital contributions women can make in our Army formations."

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