Excellent news on the gender equality front: As of Wednesday, the United States Army's elite Ranger School is open to all women. This announcement comes just 13 days after Capt. Kristen Griest and First Lt. Shaye Haver became the first women to graduate from the school as part of an "experimental" coed program. But although this is a victory worth celebrating, it's not a total victory, for a few very specific reasons. We still have a long way to go for gender equality as a whole, both within the military and without.
Griest and Haver's class was the first coed group in the school's history, and was to be the first in a series of experimental coed classes. Originally comprised of 19 women and 381 men, the group was worked down to a graduating class of two women and 94 men. In order to determine if women should be allowed to enroll in the Ranger School permanently, the U.S. Army had scheduled trial groups through November. They planned on using the results as the basis for a final decision.
This week, the Army announced that they were halting the experiment early, and that the Ranger School would immediately proceed as a coed institution. Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk told the Christian Science Monitor that the decision "just became obvious."
Yet, while can celebrate this as a recognition of women's physical and mental strength, the fact remains that Griest, Haver, and all other future female Rangers will not be able to participate in combat alongside their male peers. Though women in the Army may now complete Ranger training and earn a Ranger tab on their uniforms, women are still not permitted in the special operations combat force known as the 75th Ranger Regiment. Nor are they permitted to participate in direct ground combat. Griest and Haver may have proven themselves just as tough and combat-ready as their male peers, but they won't be able to fight alongside them outside of the school.
Griest and Haver are not the first women to prove their military worth but be denied active combat jobs. The Marine Corps conducted a similar experiment beginning in 2012, in which 358 women volunteered for an infantry training course. Of those women, 122 (34 percent) passed the course successfully, yet they were not allowed to join the ranks for which they had just proved themselves.
Hopefully, this bitter irony won't remain in place for too long. Starting Jan. 1, 2016, all United States military combat roles will required to be open to women. Women will only be blocked if a particular military branch can prove by Oct. 1, with scientific backing, that women will inhibit the effectiveness of military operations. But if science proves anything, it's that women are the toughest creatures on planet Earth.