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“They’re beasts. I can leave this course and say, ‘Hey, a woman can do any course that’s out there in the military,’” said Sgt. Hughes, a married father of two from Somerset, Ky.

“You’re hurting. And you look at them, and they’re hurting. And you know, you want to try and help them, and they’re just like, ‘No, I got this.’ And they keep pushing on. That motivates me, too. If she’s going to push through it, then I’m going to push through it.”

Pushing through sometimes was particularly difficult.

The first time she took the course, Capt. Godman’s back began spasming during a 12-mile march with full rucksacks easily weighing more than 70 pounds, more than half of her body weight. On the first of the 10 days in the field, she volunteered to carry the M240 machine gun — the platoon’s heaviest gun, at 27 pounds.

“The thing’s just as long as I am tall,” she said.

And there were times, Capt. Godman acknowledged, when she did allow the guys to help her out. But it wasn’t just her — they all helped one another.

The most important skills in the course had to do with mental strength, not physical strength, Sgt. Hughes said.

“You have to be tough, so when the suck factor is really high, you don’t quit,” he said.

Tomorrow: Who’s in, who’s out