It is not all that often that a local woman makes national headlines, but last week the name of Captain Kristen Griest became a household name for having opened up a new chapter for women in the military. Griest, 26, a military police officer and West Point graduate, was one of two women who successfully completed the grueling Army Ranger School in Fort Benning, Ga., and was to receive the coveted Army Ranger Tab in a ceremony on Friday, August 21. This class was the first to include women as part of the Army’s exploration of opening all positions to men and women, even combat positions.
The Army Ranger course is considered the Army’s premier leadership training course and one of the toughest to complete. Candidates’ mental and physical strength is being tested to the limits. Videos show them navigating an obstacle course, wade through water and mud, trek up a mountainside and operate in mock combat, all with limited food and sleep, through inhibiting weather conditions, and weighed down with full combat gear.
Of the approximately 400 who started back in April, nearly half were eliminated within a few days, the Washington Post reported on August 18. Of the 19 women who started the program, only two received their Ranger tabs, and one is still in the program. Like many of their male counterparts, Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, struggled with the Darby phase. Both women were afforded an opportunity to repeat the Darby phase in the next class. After failing the phase a second time, the two were given an opportunity to become Day 1 recycles, essentially starting the course over at the beginning, to include another round of the school’s grueling RAP week, the Ranger Assessment Phase, which taxes soldiers physical conditioning to the limits on little sleep and food.. After completing RAP week, the two successfully passed the Darby phase, this phase is designed to test abilities for conducting combat patrols, land navigation techniques, and military field craft such as setting up ambushes. After the Darby Phase Griest and Haver, successfully passed the mountaineer phase, where students continue to hone their patrolling techniques and learn about mountaineering skills, such as knots, climbing, and rappelling. Lastly, the rangers successfully passed the Florida phase, affectionately known as the swamp phase, where waterborne combat operations are taught and tested. In a press conference last week, Griest said it were the swamps of Florida that presented some low points for her, but giving up was never on her mind. After the successful completion of the RAP, Darby, Mountain, and Swamp phases Griest and Haver received their final “Go” to complete the course and make history.
Amity track coach Sean Mahon was interviewed on NPR when the news broke that a local graduate and former captain of the track team was among the women trailblazers in the Army. “One of our sayings on our team way back then was its kind of fun to do the impossible,” he said. “And it’s great to see people take that theme and take it outside the school walls of Amity and take it with them in life to do what they want to do in life.”
Though Griest and Haver successfully completed the course, they will not be joining the elite 75th Ranger unit, as it is not open to women yet. Even so, Griest encouraged women to keep on trying. “Don’t lose sight of your goals,” she said during the press conference. “I was thinking of future generations of women – I would like them to have that opportunity.” she said, adding “I hope to have informed that decision”.
House Republican Leader Themis Klarides in a message congratulated Kris Griest for being one of the first two women to successfully complete the program. “Kris Griest is truly a groundbreaking woman for her commitment to excellence which proved that there really are no bounds for women and girls,’’ Klarides said. “Orange and the entire state of Connecticut are in awe of your accomplishments.’’
Klarides said she hopes that this will convince the Pentagon to eventually allow women into the Army’s 75th Ranger regiment, and permit females to take part in the other elite units of other military branches, such as the Navy Seals. “Qualified candidates should be allowed to perform the same tasks as their colleagues, regardless of gender,’’ Klarides said.
Griest and Haver’s success with Ranger school may have started to lead the way for other elite service schools to also allow females to be able to enter training. In an interview with the military publication Defense News, Admiral Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, indicated that if women can meet the gender non-specific standards and make it through the six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, they should be allowed to serve and become a SEAL. The Navy has not issues any timelines for when women will first be afforded an opportunity to train as of yet.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent