The New Ranger School Challenge
The Army's decision to open Ranger School to women has stirred many emotions, prompted much discussion and exposed many opinions. As I have had my own emotions, observed many discussions and come to a point of opinion on the matter, I have considered sharing some of my thoughts with people I trust and respect. I love the Army. I was born into the Army community and I was shaped by its values and traditions. That love and breeding have caused me to give attention to the issues of importance that have been of concern within the Army family. Because of that love, It is with humility and sincerity that I share the following thoughts, offering them not as a political statement and definitely not with any intent to be divisive. It is that love that has compelled me to take the risk of speaking out on one the Army’s most historic, barrier crashing decisions of its existence – the decision to open one of its most legendary and demanding centers of training - The US Army Ranger School – to women.
As I pondered this issue, I reflected on other ground breaking decisions the Army has made in the recent historic past to open new doors of opportunity for women. I remember during my childhood, when my father was a very seasoned Airborne NCO, when the first two women graduated from the US Army Airborne School. In the midst of some grumbling and adjustment in the Airborne community, I was particularly struck by my parents' reaction. My mom celebrated the idea as a great achievement, while dad simply quoted a time honored Jody Cadence to make his opinion known: "If I was President and had my way, there wouldn't be a Leg in the Army today! More paratroopers means less legs - good for the Army, good for me!" Over time, the service academies opened their doors to women. I didn't particularly like the idea, an opinion that I wrestled with to some extent until reporting to West Point on Reception Day. After the first semester of my Plebe Year at West Point, while on Christmas Leave, a family friend asked me what I thought of women at the Academy. I opened my mouth to answer when her daughter, who was like a little sister to me, responded, "Aw come on Ma, you know he hates it!" Her answer bothered me because there was empirical evidence that I had observed that women were holding their own at West Point and many were excelling. Reflecting on my own Academy record, almost everybody in our class was academically doing better than me. Relationally, I was welcomed, accepted and respected by the classmates who were women that I had the privilege of knowing. Many of these women, like many of our male classmates, were amazing athletes – a point brought to my attention with some good-natured humor by one male classmate who is now in Heaven. During a discussion of women at West Point he mused, "So Sam, what was your Obstacle Course time?" My time was not nearly as fast as the excellent times of several classmates who had smoked the course and were women. It was becoming clearer to me that my perspective needed adjustment!
My perspective was sharpened even more regarding the matter of women in military service by my own short-comings as evidenced in my separation from West Point. This failure, and my parents’ encouragement in the midst of some deep soul searching, caused me to take a look at how I placed value on myself and others. I came to understand that If I allowed my failure in a pursuit, as compared to a woman’s success in a like pursuit, to call my manhood into question, or even allowed a mutual success to cheapen an accomplishment, THAT attitude would truly speak poorly of me as a person and denigrate the worthy accomplishments of other persons, as well. This wisdom gave me the freedom to celebrate the victories of others, to be all they could be, while pursuing my own path to be all that I could be.
So what does that perspective have to do with women in Ranger School? These lessons have helped me to look more closely at the merits of an issue beyond personal preferences, and to see what opportunities might exist in a scenario my prejudices might have prevented me from seeing. The current combat experiences of the men and women serving our nation are affording us the opportunity to reevaluate just who is fit to fight. The demands of the global war on terror have exposed many of the accomplishments of women in combat - accomplishments that strongly call for a revisiting of the roles of women serving in the Profession of Arms. The Havok Journal and the ABC News Show “Nightline” widened the circulation of the accomplishments of women in combat operations by showcasing the book “Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield” written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. In his review of “Ashely’s War,” Leo Jenkins captures the deep cultural and strategic importance of the accomplishments of these special warriors by saying,
“For some, I believe this book will be an informative and entertaining look at the relatively new role of women in special operations. However, for those with the capacity to read deeper, it is history in motion. Never before have we had such a front row seat for the changing of a cultural tide. Ashley’s War highlights a long overdue paradigm shift, one where over half of our population finally gains the ability to access a corner of the world that previously had a “No girls allowed” sign affixed. With precision accuracy, this book shows the merit and value of women in direct action capacity as well as a special operations role.”
The times have changed. The requirements of what is required to defend the nation have broadened. The nation and the Army not only has much to gain from the women who take on the challenges of training like Ranger School, the nation needs women bold enough to step up to such demanding service. Just as with their male counterparts who go beyond the call of the average soldier, the women who take on the challenge of Ranger School will gain experience, knowledge and grow in leadership in a way that will benefit them and every organization to which they belong, just as the women and men who have taken on the challenge of West Point have benefited from the West Point experience and have benefited others, whether they have graduated or not. Those who oppose giving women access to such training must look deep within and make sure they are not merely defending tradition or upholding prejudice while overlooking the benefits to the military mission by opening the doors of the Army’s toughest school. It is important to realize that such steps by definition bring changes. Ranger School will be changed by the presence of women, just as the Jump School and the Academies were changed by their presence. It is also important to understand that these changes do not necessarily mean that the changes will make the program easier or of less value. By comparison, I have yet to hear any man or woman define their West Point experience as an easy one or one that had diminished value because it was coeducational. Has the experience changed and is it different than it was in years gone by - yes. But is it easy or has it lessened in significance? Absolutely not!
Of course, we must ensure that as changes are made, nonetheless, standards are maintained, readiness reinforced and that special units remain special in capabilities and strength! The dangers of today’s world, and the diversity of the threat, has made it undeniably apparent that there is a need for a diversity of rugged, qualified soldiers, both male and female, who have what it takes to function as special operators. In response, the nation’s fighting forces must ensure these women and men have the best training possible. There may be numerous ways to satisfy these needs. The testimonies of those who have defended the nation in contemporary times, in the complex battlefield of today, strongly support the Army’s action to offer Ranger training to women. It is my hope that we can look at the benefits, continue to creatively broaden training opportunities, and give the folks who are special, a chance to shine and reach their maximum potential, regardless of their gender. Even in the failures, lessons will be learned, character built and Army leaders strengthened. The Marines may have looked for a few good men, but the Army of today needs men and women of excellence, to carry out its mission in the years ahead. I have no doubt that by the time of the Graduation of Ranger Class 6-2015, whatever its composition, Rangers will still Lead the Way!
Respectfully, Sam Jackson