In a landmark announcement, an Army spokesman on Thursday said that women will now be allowed to participate in the training program for one of the world’s most elite forces, the Army Rangers. Though no combat roles have opened up for women, the study seeks to determine if women have what it takes to make it.
The two-month long training, which begins around the end of April in Fort Benning, Georgia, is designed to stretch participants to the limits on all levels, both mental and physical, NPR reports.
Up to 60 women will be allowed to take the course. Success rates are not high, and the entire point is to filter out those in the general military population not capable of achieving the elite-tier performance necessary to operate in the world’s best light infantry force. Around 60 percent of men fail to successfully complete the training, based on Army statistics. Parts of the fitness test include running five miles within 40 minutes and completing 49 push-ups in two minutes. The reason the program is two months long is so doctors can study the musculoskeletal impact of the training. That is, how carrying heavy loads over time and in rough conditions affect basic body mechanics.
At least a third of medical evacuations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been due to musculoskeletal injuries, according to a study conducted by John Hopkins University School of Medicine, and since females have a much smaller physical profile than men, some doctors think that the inclusion of women in combat roles will be a disaster for injury rates.
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“I’m certain the majority of women doing this won’t be physically able to do it as long as the men,” Dr. David Cifu, national director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Veterans Health Administration, told Military.com. “It’s a matter of body size and body mechanics.”
“We’re just going to let the statistics speak for themselves as we go through this,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said during a virtual town hall meeting, according to Military.com. “The main thing I’m focused on is the standards remain the same. In order to earn that tab, you have to do all the things necessary to earn that tab. We want to try a pilot to let women have the opportunity to do that.”
For over 60 years, female trainees have not been permitted to take up the very limited number of spaces available in the training course, but the Obama administration has pressured the Department of Defense to include women in more dangerous, front line roles. As a result, the Pentagon stated that all jobs—including combat occupations—must be open to women by 2016.
The effort to include women is part of a pilot study run by the Pentagon to see if women will function adequately in combat roles. Even if women pass the course, they will not at this point become members of the Ranger regiment.
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