By Rebecca Fiedler
When Sabattus, Maine, freshman Sara Lacroix was first stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen as a private, her sergeant major asked what her physical training score was.
“He then said to me, ‘You’re going to be the first girl to graduate Ranger School,’” Lacroix said.
This could happen soon, following an experimental trial run that determines whether or not women are physically able to meet the demands of being an Army Ranger.
Women now have the chance to volunteer for Ranger School, an Army program that has always been reserved exclusively for men because it prepares soldiers for more combat-intensive jobs.
“Ranger School focuses on leadership,” said Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. Army. “Rangers are a little more elite than your average soldier.”
Female soldiers are currently barred from serving in many direct combat positions in the military. In recent years, however, the secretary of defense and joint chiefs of staff have initiated plans to integrate women into more of these positions. By January 2016, the U.S. Army plans to open any and all positions to women unless, after studies have been performed, officials determine that women still are not qualified for certain positions.
“In other words, the Army will have to, by that date, request exceptions to policy from the Department of Defense on any position that they feel still should not be open to female soldiers,” Hall said. “The shift in policy is to open everything up to female soldiers.”
Female soldiers have until Dec. 1 to sign up to participate in an experimental trial run of Ranger School alongside male students that will occur in spring 2015. This trial run will help officials determine whether Ranger School and Ranger positions will need to remain exceptions in gender inclusion by January of 2016. Until integration decisions are made, however, none of these volunteer female students will be identified as rangers or placed in ranger units upon graduation.
Lacroix comes to Baylor this year after serving three years active duty in the U.S. Army as a combat medic. She joined the Baylor Army ROTC with plans to graduate and become an officer, though she has dreams with the military that have yet to be fulfilled because of her gender.
“I think the biggest reason women haven’t been allowed to be Rangers is a reason I agree with,” Lacroix said.
Lacroix said she thinks the majority of male and female soldiers can’t conduct themselves correctly around each other when placed in direct combat units together. She believes women are a distraction to a unit of mostly males, and that a woman’s presence would disrupt the sense of brotherhood that binds male soldiers in a unit.
“It sounds so awful and rude, but that’s the truth,” she said.
Lacroix said all soldiers should have a strong enough mind to act professionally and not be distracted by a member of the opposite sex. However, she said she feels the expectation has proven too difficult to be realistic. She is hesitant to the thought of placing herself in a male combat unit, such as a unit of Rangers.
“I would feel almost guilty for those men because I would be the one throwing off the dynamic of the unit,” she said. “Maybe guilty is the wrong word, but I think it’s a lot to ask of them.”
Lacroix said she disputes the stereotype, however, that women are all physically weaker than men, and can’t run as fast or shoot as accurately as men.
“I think a lot of men have that stigma that girls can’t hang,” she said. “People look at me and wonder if I can carry a 200-pound guy in full battle rattle, which would make him about 260 pounds. Can I carry him off the battlefield? I can.”
Standard Army physical training tests have differing requirements for men and women, such as the number of pushups performed. The requirements and standards for Ranger School will not, however, be changed or lowered, Hall said.
“Ranger School has its own standard physical fitness test,” he said. “That same standard will apply to females as it will to males.”
Lacroix said if she got herself in good physical shape and was at her peak level of fitness, she could be successful in Ranger School. To receive her Expert Field Medical Badge, Lacroix said she had to perform tasks to a Ranger standard, such as a 12 mile ruck march in less than three hours. In Advanced Individual Training, she had to carry men that were twice her size over her shoulder and get them to safety. She has also worked alongside Ranger units and Special Forces units.
Lacroix said if approached again about attending Ranger School, she may accept.
“I believe absolutely, 100 percent, that women should be able to go to Ranger School and earn that Ranger tab and wear it wherever they are, no matter what unit they’re in,” she said. “I do not, however, think that they should be placed in a Ranger battalion. I think it’s too much of a distraction.”