Behind the scenes of Ft. Benning's Army Ranger School course

Women continue to push through the Ranger course

FORT BENNING, GA (WTVM) - One week down, eight more to go if you can finish the Army Ranger School course without failing.

It's grueling, it's exhausting and tests your body's every limit.

News Leader 9 got a firsthand look at the first Army Ranger School to allow women to participate, held at Ft. Benning. It was also the first time media has been allowed that much access.

This weekend, we observed the 255 men and eight women going through the Darby Camp Queen course in an historic moment for our country.

It's one of the toughest programs in the military and this obstacle course tests a person's physical limits like none other.

Nineteen women passed a two-week Ranger Assessment Training course to even get a shot at making it to this point. During the Camp Darby Obstacle course, eight were still standing.

"A secretly sense of pride and I say 'secretly' because we can't really cheer these females on," said Staff Sergeant Cynthia Velarde. "It's definitely a humbling experience to sit back and get a chance to see these women come through and obviously there's a small number for a reason but you can't help to be proud that they're going to something and obviously it's an historical moment but it's good to see they're still hanging in there."

Staff Sgt. Cynthia Velarde, 32, is one of 28 women who was brought in as an O.A. which stands for Observer Advisors.

They've been observing and assessing classes for the past few months, and served as an extra set of eyes and ears to ensure the standards still remain the same during the process to help prepare for this. The theme across the board is no standards have changed to accommodate women in the program.

"Once the class started, we expected to see something a maybe a little bit different but it hasn't been, it's been just like normal," said Sergeant 1st Class Gerald Nelson with Public Affairs. "These females have volunteered to come here, they want to be Ranger students just like the rest of them and they're doing very well."

What has changed are things outside of training — they assessed how females would use the bathrooms, their changing situations and shower times among others.

"Everything's running smoothly, I think it's a little different," Sgt. 1st Class Nelson said. "Some of the women are fine with the way it's set up because they are kind of sectioned off, even though they're in the barracks, by wall lockers to allow a little bit of privacy when they're changing only."

If and when these women finish the 61-day Ranger School, they receive a Ranger tab just as the men would, although their options after that are still being assessed at the top levels.

"Females have proven in the last decade or longer that we do serve in combat," said Civil Affairs Captain Mel Burroni with Civil Affairs. "So women have been inspiring in the military for many years. I think if there's a female graduate or not, it doesn't create a point of contention, it's just an opportunity for females to take on a different course if they would like to."

The Darby Queen Obstacle course has 26 obstacles that you crawl, claw, climb, run, roll, grind, swing and slide through, and every emotion pours out of you literally through blood, sweat and tears.

We're told the eight women have an average weight of 100 to 115 pounds but their size hasn't held them back.

"You can't measure someone's heart," Sgt. 1st Class Nelson said. "I've seen some of the biggest, strongest, muscled up men come through here and they're heart's just not into it, they're just not mentally strong enough to make it through this course; I've seen 100-pound men come through here and make it through no problem."

Of the 400 men and women who started the course on April 20, only 192 remain.

About 60 percent of the training course graduates successfully complete Ranger School and more than half do not pass the Ranger Assessment Phase or "RAP" in the first five days.

Only about 20 percent of those who start Ranger School go straight through without having to retake a portion that they failed, and only about three percent of the Army has earned the Ranger tab.

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