- - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The first female soldier to participate in the Army’s initial training for the Green Berets — side by side with men — failed to complete the course, The Washington Times has learned.

The enlisted soldier is the first woman to attend U.S. Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection, the first step toward earning the Special Forces name and the coveted green beret.

Since Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened all combat jobs to women in December, a number of female troops have applied for direct combat roles from which they had long been banned. No woman has achieved the qualifications to become an Army Ranger or Green Beret, a Navy SEAL, a Marine Corps infantry officer or an Air Force parajumper, among other combat specialties.

The first woman to try out for the 75th Ranger Regiment failed to complete the course this month, The Army Times reported. Three female soldiers have completed the Army’s Ranger School but not the qualification for the special operations Ranger regiment.

In July, The Times reported that two female officer candidates had been accepted to attend a Special Forces Assessment and Selection class that begins in the spring.

On Sept. 2, the unidentified female enlisted soldier reported to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She passed the physical fitness test and the first half of the grueling, 21-day weeding-out process, during which 10 percent to 15 percent of her classmates dropped out.

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During the land navigation phase of the training, she either withdrew voluntarily, was medically dropped or was administratively removed for not meeting standards, said three sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Pending review boards, she may try again.

Historically, only one-third of candidates pass the entire course.

“An average class is 300 candidates, with a 10 to 15 percent attrition rate after the physical fitness assessment. The total attrition rate at the end of SFAS is 60 percent,” warfare center spokeswoman Maj. Melody Faulkenberry said in a July interview regarding the first two female officer candidates invited to Special Forces Assessment and Selection.

Army officials would not confirm or deny that a female enlisted soldier was enrolled in the training. They would not release her name, rank, military occupational specialty (job) or deployment history. She did attend Airborne school because all Special Forces candidates must be Airborne-qualified.

Army Special Operations Command would only release a statement about Special Forces Assessment and Selection.

“The Special Forces Assessment and Selection process, and subsequent Special Forces qualification training are very challenging experiences — experiences that can be made more difficult with the additional pressure that often comes with focused media attention on particular individuals due to their race, color, gender, religion, national origin and sexual orientation,” Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, the command’s public affairs director, said in an email.

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The female candidate made it through the first week of the course, known as the “gates.” All of the candidates underwent IQ and psychological testing and a physical fitness assessment, and successfully tackled obstacle courses and long marches and runs carrying full rucksacks.

“There’s a fitness baseline candidates must achieve. This test is not graded by age or gender, but purely their fitness level,” Maj. Faulkenberry, the warfare center spokeswoman, explained in July.

If the female soldier retakes and passes Special Forces Assessment and Selection, she then will have to pass a Special Forces Qualification Course to earn the green beret — theoretically a two-year process. As a noncommissioned officer, she would become an integral member of a 12-member Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, known as an A-Team. One core mission is to conduct unconventional warfare behind enemy lines.

She would be a staff sergeant or sergeant 1st class assigned to weapons, engineering, medical or communications on the 12-member team.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Repass, former commander of Army Special Forces, said that if a female soldier gets to the A-Teams in the field, she will face the same challenge that every other new operator does: She will have to earn her spot.

“In the very unlikely event that there was some institutional slack on the standards, there will be none on the Special Forces detachments, the A-Teams. Everyone has to pull their weight and be able to do other people’s jobs as well. Every day is a ‘selection event’ for an operator, and you can be told to step off the team if you are not meeting the standards,” Gen. Repass said.

Lt. Col. Stuart Farris, who from 2014 until June was commander at Fort Bragg’s Camp Mackall, where Special Forces Assessment and Selection training takes place, has dismissed suggestions that standards have been lowered to allow women to enter combat roles.

“I am intimately familiar with the women in service initiative. I can assure you that we have the most comprehensive and rigorous Assessment and Selection process and methodology in [all special operations forces],” Col. Farris wrote recently in a discussion on a social media site approved by Special Operations Command.

“Bottom line, rest easy knowing that no standards have changed, and they will not change — everyone in my chain of command up to [Defense Secretary Ashton Carter] has been absolutely emphatic about this,” the colonel wrote.

Gen. Repass said the biggest challenge a female candidate may face could be the cultural shift.

“There is a unique bond between the members of the operational detachments. The small team has a personality of its own, and every member contributes to that, as well as the reputation of the detachment within the company and battalion,” the retired general said. “The women who make it into the team rooms will not be myths; they’ll become living facts.”

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