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US Navy Seals plan to accept women after female soldiers graduate as Army Rangers

People's reactions to women serving in combat Marines
U.S. Marines assigned to the female engagement team (FET) attached to Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment conduct a security patrol in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2011. The FET aids the infantry Marines by engaging Afghan women and children in support of the International Security Assistance Force. (DoD photo by Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum, U.S. Marine Corps /Released)

The US Navy plan to allow into their teams, an admiral says, days after the army announced that two soldiers would be the first to graduate from the elite and gruelling Army Ranger School.

“We’re on a track to say: ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a ,’” Admiral Jon Greenert told the Navy Times on Tuesday.

Greenert said that he and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, the top commander of the naval special warfare command, agree with peers in the army and air force who believe that any woman who can overcome the punishing training deserves a place in elite fighting units.

“It’s a great precedent,” said Nathan Fletcher, a marine corps veteran and board member of the non-partisan Truman Project. “All of the special operations community will be hard-pressed not to follow it.”

Since the Pentagon lifted the ban on in combat roles in 2013, the military’s five branches have studied how integration may play out with test courses, teams and reviews. Losey recommended that serve under the same standards as their male peers.

Although the recommendation has yet to receive final approval, the navy secretary, Ray Mabus, has signalled his willingness to fully integrate. In May, Mabus told the US Naval Academy : “I don’t care what shape you are, what gender you are, what color, where you come from – if you pass, you pass.”

But although the first female army rangers will make history when they graduate on Friday, integration continues at a crawl – the remain banned from trying out for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, a combat unit related to but separate from the school, which remains closed to .

The retiring army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, told the Washington Post last week that a decision may come soon on whether to allow to join the ranger units.

“The feedback I’ve gotten with these is how incredibly prepared they are. The effort that they’ve put forward has been significant. They’ve impressed all that they’ve come in contact with. They are clearly motivated and – and frankly, that’s what we want out of our soldiers,” he said.

The two who completed army ranger school have been identified by the Washington Post and others as Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, who were among a group of 20 who qualified to be the first to begin training on 20 April. Both are in their 20s and graduates of the US military academy at West Point.

Their families issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying the “are just like all the soldiers in Class 8-15 – happy, relieved, and ready for some good food and sleep”.

Chris Haver called his daughter’s accomplishment “just amazing” and said, “I’m super proud.”

That they will wear the ranger tab but return to their original units has upset some observers.

“It’s ridiculous,” Ellen Haring, a retired army colonel and senior fellow of in International Security, said. “I think the ban is going to fall. Only 3% of the army qualifies as a ranger – why in the world would they continue to ban a demographic that is going to add to that pool?”

Haring noted that have served in combat operations for years, including with the rangers. Since 2010 more than 200 have trained and embedded with ranger teams in Afghanistan. Two , First LieutenantAshley White and First Lieutenant Jennifer Moreno, were killed during night raids with rangers there.

Fletcher argued that banning from combat roles could even hinder missions. Citing his own experience in Iraq, he said that could have helped interview female intelligence sources who refused to speak to men.

“There was someone who had valuable information that would’ve kept us safe, but they wouldn’t talk with you,” he said. “That we didn’t have there drastically limited our ability to accomplish a mission.”

Haring called the graduation at Fort Benning, Georgia, “a huge milestone”, adding that if the 75th Ranger Regiment opens to “that really cracks the entire special operations community open.

“I can’t imagine that the marine corps is going to be allowed to seek an exception when there are going to be rangers and potentially .”

As with about 240,000 other positions, only men can serve in special operations combat units. On average, only around 45% of ranger candidates pass through its exacting training course; of the 380 men and 19 – one who qualified did not begin training – who began the most recent course, 97 men graduated earlier this summer, and 94 men and two will graduate on Friday.

Some of those who failed portions of the test but performed well in others can retake phases of the course – second chances that exact yet more weeks of strenuous mental and physical labor.

Even in its shortest form, the 61-day course requires applicants to perform in mountains and swamps, through parachute jumps and obstacle ranges, weeks of combat patrols and such physical tasks as a 12-mile march carrying a full pack.

About a third of candidates “recycle” through at least one phase of the program, the army has said. A third female ranger candidate is currently retaking a phase.

Haring, another West Point alumnus, said that integration “is kind of a bittersweet thing” for her and the dozens of other female alumni who will celebrate the ’s achievement.

“For so long people said ‘ simply can’t do this, therefore we’re not going to allow you to try,’” Haring said. “You were in kind of a catch-22. So it’s so exciting for these two , but wow, look at all the other who could’ve been great combat soldiers.”

Across the military, each of the branches must submit their reviews and recommendations – including any requests for exemptions to the integration rule – to the defense secretary, Ash Carter, before 1 January 2016. Senior officials told the Associated Press that the army, navy and air force will probably plan for full integration, but that the marine corps and some special operations may request waivers.

Proponents of the ban say that adding to tightly bonded combat units could disrupt team cohesion and possibly lead to lower physical standards. Fletcher said those concerns are overstated, comparing them to the “dire predictions” made during the military’s desegregation in 1948 and the end of the ban on openly gay people in 2011: “We’ll look back a year from now and wonder, ‘What was that all about?’”

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