“I had a nightmare that I was still in Ranger School," the legendary Colonel Robert A. “Tex” Turner once said. "Thank God that I was in Vietnam.” In other words, Ranger School, the Army’s premiere combat leadership course, f---king sucks.
Over the course of nine weeks, candidates endure an endless slog of physical and mental challenges that take them from the mountains of Georgia to the swamps of Florida, all on minimal food and sleep, and with rucksacks that weigh somewhere in the vicinity of a baby elephant on their backs. It's about as close as a soldier can come to experiencing the hellishness of combat without actually being in a war zone, and for that reason only a minuscule fraction (somewhere around 3 percent) of active-duty soldiers have earned the coveted Ranger Tab awarded to those who pass.
And this Friday, two female soldiers will be the first women in history to wear the tab. (The Army has so far chosen not to identify them.)
Contrary to what many people think, earning the Ranger Tab does not technically make a soldier a Ranger. That title is reserved for those selected to serve in one of the Army's four elite Ranger Battalions, which are still all-male.
Nonetheless, this represents a watershed moment for our military: the first in a series of milestones expected to ultimately open hundreds of combat jobs — including infantry and artillery positions — to women, who have played a significant role on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but are still barred from officially serving "on the line."
While the news has elicited jubilant responses from across the political spectrum, not everyone sees it as a good thing. A number of observers, including many current and former service members, believe that allowing women to serve on the line is out of step with realities on the ground, and they have been making the case, loudly, on social media.
"Women I love you," air force veteran Dave Winters wrote on Facebook, expressing a typical sentiment, "and that's because you're loving and pure and supportive. Not killers. Not savages. Not capable of the things that Rangers have to do in their most extreme moments."
He and others are also accusing the Army of succumbing to political pressure to allow the women to pass. Here's a sampling of what they're saying:
But perhaps in a sign that attitudes in the military are beginning to soften, some commenters are also expressing praise for the graduates. As one put it, "Kudos to them for being monsters."
Photos by Nick Tomecek/AP