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Generally I wouldn’t venture down this road.
Whether or not women are allowed to go to Ranger School is an argument that I don’t lose much sleep over. That being said, I’ve read two columns in the last few weeks that cover this topic and neither of them were convincing. Stephen Kilcullen tried to explain to the world why women don’t belong at Ranger School and failed. Epically.
Look, I didn’t wake up this morning and decide that I was a rampant feminist, but if you’re going to stake a claim and try to convince me that women shouldn’t be allowed to go to Ranger School you might want to structure your argument a little better and you could start by supporting the claims you make.
“The United States Army is debating whether to admit women to Ranger School, its elite training program for young combat leaders. Proponents argue this is to remove a final impediment to the careers of Army women. But the move would erode the unique Ranger ethos and culture—not to mention the program’s rigorous physical requirements—harming its core mission of cultivating leaders willing to sacrifice everything for our nation.”
This argument employs an emotive claim that smacks of protectionism. Kilcullen’s own words here are what grabbed my attention. He states that Ranger School’s purpose is to “cultivate leaders willing to sacrifice everything for our nation.” I fail to see how this is a gender specific trait. Why is it that the ability to live the Ranger ethos and die for our nation dependent on your sex? It’s not. This is a false claim.
Women have served this country, fought for it and died since its inception. The only reason more haven’t done so is that the military in general has grappled with how to integrate them properly. Kilcullen cites the Air Force’s inclusion of women in the ranks of fighter pilots and the Navy’s inclusion of women on submarines as examples of “a broader trend in the U.S. military.” Right. So for once the Air Force and the Navy are leading the Army? Nobody said this was going to be easy, or neat and orderly; nor should it be.
Jonn Lilyea‘s article followed Kilcullen by just a few days and tried to take a higher road. Instead of stating that women don’t belong in Ranger School he argues that the Army is incapable of integrating them while maintaining the high standards required to generate the leaders this country needs. Lilyea hits the standards nail directly on the head and then stops short of saying the Army should send women to Ranger School. Instead he argues that the Army is incapable of doing it.
“If I thought for a second that allowing women in Ranger School wouldn’t change the school and the valuable lessons they teach young combat arms leaders, I’d say go ahead. But I know Big Army better than that.”
“The whole point of Ranger School is to simulate combat stress as closely as possible. It’s mentally and physically demanding and there’s no room for relaxed standards, unless we’re willing to only fight enemies who’ll agree to relax their own standards in regards to fighting women. This isn’t a post against women in general, it’s post against Big Army who I know will screw this up.”
Lilyea’s reasoning for why sending women to Ranger School is a bad idea has nothing to do with women or Ranger School. It has everything to do with the Army and its inability to logically apply standards. In a nutshell Lilyea’s argument is that women shouldn’t be allowed to go to Ranger School because the Army is incapable of setting and maintaining a standard and enforcing it across all soldiers—regardless of their sex. What he’s worried about are standards; and he should be.
Kilcullen only alludes to the standards issue by saying “…the move would erode the unique Ranger ethos and culture—not to mention the program’s rigorous physical requirements—harming its core mission of cultivating leaders willing to sacrifice everything for our nation.”
Who says that if you allow women to attend Ranger School you have to lower the standards? I don’t recall reading about a decrease in sortie generation or nuclear readiness because the Air Force let women fly fighter jets or because the Navy put women on a submarine. So here’s the answer; the Army needs to figure out a way to maintain the same physical standards they have now and let women go to Ranger School. One standard regardless of age or sex—it’s that easy and don’t tell me it can’t be done. One standard, one Tab. The Army can do it; whether or not it will is another question.
This has nothing to do with whether or not women serve in Special Operations Units, Ranger Battalions or anywhere else. That’s a separate conversation and may very well have an altogether different answer. This is a conversation about Ranger School and building capable combat leaders. Kilcullen puts it best when he says that Ranger School “…lures the kind of young, smart soldiers needed to get the toughest jobs done.” Folks, that’s got nothing to do with your reproductive capabilities. You’ll notice the absence of the word “men” anywhere in that sentence; it’s about “soldiers.”
Neither Lilyea nor Kilcullen articulated any reason why women were incapable of attending or completing Ranger School. Instead Kilcullen argues simply that they don’t belong there and Lilyea claims that the Army is incapable of integrating women into Ranger School while simultaneously maintaining existing standards. They both believe—although for very different reasons—that women shouldn’t be allowed to go. The Army’s inability to figure this out is a different issue altogether from the question of whether or not women should be allowed to attend Ranger School.
Women should be allowed to attend Ranger School. There. I said it.
The Army can figure this out. It’s going to take courage. It’s not going to be easy. People will scream and wail and gnash their teeth and they will all get over it.
The crux of this debate is that vocal participants — if they’re going to spill anymore ink — must figure out how to do what’s best for the Army and for this country. Tell the Army to set, enforce and maintain rigorous standards that generate leaders worthy of serving our nation. If that means sending women to Ranger School; so be it.
Tyrell Mayfield is an active duty Air Force officer and a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School. Opinions expressed here do not represent the Department of defence or its components.
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