The Ranger pipeline for men includes preparation at their own troop unit (or training station in the case of men who are in initial entry training), a briefing by a Ranger-qualified officer or NCO, a PT test to Ranger standards, and a volunteer statement. Contrary to common belief, not all Ranger students are parachute qualified, but the vast majority of them are, and the qualified soldiers will conduct up to three combat equipment jumps during the course. (The schedule is tight so the jumps can weather out). Parachute-qualified Rangers are allowed five hours sleep the night before a jump for safety reasons. That’s the longest stretch of sleep anyone gets in the two-month course, which is recognizably the same as it was at the time of its establishment circa 1950.
Having women in the pipeline has required some changes to the physical plant and schedule, but they are minor, for example, providing women’s toilet facilities and increasing the time for personal hygiene — slightly.
The military officers and NCOs assigned to this include both people who are known yes-men, and people who are not and who are sworn to uphold Ranger standards. (One example of the latter: CSM Jeff Mellinger).
The Ranger Pipeline for women takes advantage of the pre-Ranger course, the Army National Guard’s Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC), which was established to give reserve component soldiers some conditioning and psychological preparation for the Ranger School environment (it was established because RC soldiers were failing at a higher rate). Several RTAC iterations were opened to women with the hopes of getting 100 female volunteers ready for the first co-ed Ranger course this month. That number was not achieved for several reasons, including but not limited to:
- Fewer women volunteered for Ranger training that Army leaders anticipated;
- Fewer women passed RTAC than anticipated.
Most men who attend RTAC pass. Of 138 women who started RTAC, 19 passed, but it’s interesting how those numbers came to pass. The first several iterations of co-ed RTAC involved 77 women volunteers, but only 12 passed (16%) despite encouragement, the Corps of Commissars, etc. Moreover, one of the five women who passed the very first RTAC iteration then voluntarily withdrew. Her reasons are unknown to us.
The command made two attempts to increase the numbers, with only one more RTAC class available before the first coed Ranger class. First, a record 61 female volunteers were crammed into the last-chance RTAC. Secondly, the VW, or quitter, was persuaded to un-quit, an opportunity that’s never been offered to a Ranger candidate before. Again, we do not know the circumstances of this decision, or why that unique accommodation was made, or even who did the persuading. That’s all a black box, despite the presence of media shadowing the female candidates. We only know that it was done.
The idea of trebling the female input to RTAC, to increase the output, certainly seems logical, but doesn’t seem to have worked. Of the 61 candidates, only seven did not fail, medically drop, or quit. This was a pass rate of only 11% of this group, with an overall pass rate of 14% for all female RTAC candidates (19/138).
Aside: a word on fail/drop/quit. On one level those mean the same thing: the candidate is out of the course. On another level, they don’t, usually. A student who voluntarily withdraws (i.e., quits) an Army course is generally discouraged from returning, if not banned outright. (SF does this in its courses with the dreaded “NTR Letter,” telling the student he’s Never To Return. Tim McVeigh is probably the most famous recipient of an NTR Letter; most if not all VWs, all honor-violation drops, and some truly hopeless failures get the NTR). A student who fails, though, usually faces no such discrimination and can opt to attend the course again in the future. For officer students, this can sometimes be done on an Army quota while doing a change of station, but units are loath to use their limited number of Ranger School slots on a soldier who’s already failed once, when there are always more good troops wanting a slot than there are slots to hand out. Medical drops can always come back if they can recover from their illness or injury, and can get a slot and time in their schedule. There are other rare administrative drops (for example, death in the immediate family) that are also not held against the candidate in the way that quitting or even failure is.
That left 19 plucky female Ranger candidates in the first formation of Ranger Class 06-15 that began on 20 April 2015. Most (all?) of them were officers. By the end of that first day, three women had failed. The three failed the PT test, as did a large number of men, mostly men that had not had RTAC preparation.
PT Test Attrition
This failure of PT tests, which have a widely publicized standard, generally results from the fact that at Ranger School the test is graded with scrupulous adherence to the standards in Army field manuals; at troop units, a soldier (of either sex) may get away with merely bobbing his or her head and wiggling arms a little, and getting that thing counted as a push-up. At Ranger school, a cadre member will be counting these repetitions: “Zero… zero… zero…” and by the time the candidate figures out that what passed for a push-up at the fo-fo’ty-fo’th mo-po doesn’t fly at Harmony Church, he or she may be too weak to do the requisite number of real push-ups.
The students (male and female) have had to meet the following standards:
- 49 push-ups to Army standard
- 59 sit-ups, ditto
- 6 pull-ups
- 5 mile run in 40 minutes even
3 of 19 women (16%) and 78 of 381 men (20%) failed this test on the first day. (Something doesn’t add up in these numbers from the Army, as only 399 roster numbers were initially assigned to class members, and 381+19=400. But they’re the figures we got, and the ones that were on the Chief of Staff’s briefing slide — you bet he’s watching this).
Other RAP Week Attrition
The first week of Ranger School (the first four days, really) is called RAP Week (Ranger Assessment Phase). It’s a combination of check-the-box tests and gut checks that makes sure that the students here really want to be here, and are really ready to tackle the course. Hisorically, many aren’t, as the normal 15-20% attrition on PT tests shows.
Other attrition generators in this phase of Ranger school include a short swim (15 feet or so) in uniform with a rubber rifle, Ranger Runs and rucksack marches. The principal ruck attrition comes from a 12-mile ruck march with a nerf ruck (35 pounds), that must be completed as an individual in under three hours. Some short-legged people need to jog to do that, but it’s certainly not a physical challenge for anyone in infantry shape, and the fall-outs are generally the injured and/or people who were not remotely prepared for the course in the first place (for comparison’s sake, junior enlisted coming from the Ranger Regiment’s operational battalions, NCOs coming from Special Forces and other SOF elements, and junior officers in the initial infantry training pipeline never fail this event). There is a written test that also causes some failures, but it is unlikely to trip up these women, who as officers are already selected for above-average intelligence.
Three of the female candidates failed the initial land-nav exercise (so did a number of men, but we do not have the number). Normally there is an end-of-week retest (without retraining) available; we do not know if the commissars are providing retraining to the female failures.
With the ruck march a significant contributor to attrition, five more females failed other RAP Week events, leaving 8 to continue in the school. They must complete all events, not get injured, and take at least four graded patrol leadership positions, and pass half of the ones that they take. (Squared-away students may graduate with four patrols, but ones that struggle to lead will get more and more leadership positions up until the class ends in hopes of dragging them above 50%, or at least teaching them something. Word is that any female candidate that gets above 50% will be exempted from further graded positions, but this is not very different from what happens with the men).
Overall pass rate for men in the pipeline is 40-50%. Our pass rate for the ladies so far can be no higher than 8/138 or 6%, about 1/7 of the overall male pass rate, despite command emphasis on getting them through.
Of this class’s women, 11 of 19 have already failed, dropped or VWd, or 58%, and 8 of 19, or 42%, continued in training after four days. There are 59 days left in the course.