Spc. Nikayla Shodeen / U.S. Army / Reuters

US Army to open elite Ranger School to all genders

Announcement comes after two women in August became the first to pass the school's grueling leadership course

The U.S. Army said on Wednesday it would open its elite Ranger School to all soldiers regardless of gender, after two women made history last month by becoming the first to pass the grueling leadership course.

"We must ensure that this training opportunity is available to all soldiers who are qualified and capable," said Army Secretary John McHugh.

In a program that began in April, 19 women and 381 men began the first course that included women at the Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Two women, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver, and 94 men graduated on Aug. 21.

The graduating class proved that women can prevail in the 61-day-long test of strength and endurance, both physical and mental.

For now, women are still barred from serving in Ranger combat units, but just earning the tab is a mark of distinction that can set a young officer on a track toward top commands.

The Army had faced resistance to allowing women to serve in combat units, but since such experience is a factor in job advancement, women have had greater difficulty than men in moving up to the top ranks, officials have 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," Chief of Staff of Army General Mark A. Milley said in the statement.

President Barack Obama's administration decided in 2013 that all combat positions should be open to women by 2016, including the infantry, artillery, armor and special forces.

The military services can request that exceptions be made, provided they are justified by operational constraints.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will have the last word on which positions will remain closed to women in January 2016.

But the service chiefs appear to be leaning in favor of a total or near-total opening of their forces to women, provided they meet the same physical requirements as men.

Admiral Jon Greenert, the outgoing chief of naval operations, for instance, has come out in favor of allowing women into the Navy's SEALs, the elite force famous for killing Osama bin Laden.

Wire services

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