FORT BENNING, Ga. — A military police officer from Connecticut and an Apache helicopter pilot from Texas are the first women to complete the Army’s grueling Ranger School, families of the soldiers confirmed Wednesday.
Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas, were scheduled to graduate Friday alongside 94 male soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia after completing the grueling 62-day course.
In a joint statement Wednesday, the families of 26-year-old Griest and 25-year-old Haver said the women were “just like all the soldiers” in their graduating class: “happy, relieved, and ready for some good food and sleep. Like everyone who will pin the tab on Friday, they are exceptional soldiers and strong teammates.”
And while the families are proud, they don’t want to single out their daughters. “Just as they trained as a team, they wish to celebrate as a team,” the joint statement said.
Geist’s older brother, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mike Griest, also serves in the Army as an aviator. He spoke to the Associated Press about his sister’s accomplishment, saying she wanted to tackle the course “for a long, long time.”
He also said his 26-year-old sister loves camping and testing her endurance. He says she chose to become a military police officer because it seemed like the closest thing she could get to a combat job. “If she had been allowed to go infantry out of college, she would have done that.”
Connecticut politicians released statements about the incredible feat.
Gov. Dan Malloy said:
We are incredibly proud of Captain Kristen Griest on her achievement, which no doubt is the result of years of perseverance, strength, and patriotism. She is making history – it’s a major step for women in the military and for women everywhere. Her achievements are incredibly important, yet also symbolic of how much progress we have to continue achieving in the future. We salute her service, and we also express our deepest gratitude to her family.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said:
Among the graduating class of 96 Army Rangers receiving their tabs, two will make history as the first female soldiers ever to accomplish this extraordinary feat – including First Lt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Conn. In the military as elsewhere, women are breaking down barriers and proving they are equally capable professionally and personally. These two women graduates are leaders in every sense, having demonstrated the courage and strength to serve in the most demanding, difficult missions. Their accomplishment shows that the Army should proceed to open combat positions and break down other professional barriers, as directed by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2013, and their graduation from Ranger School shows standards do not need to be lowered, nor should they be. Their success deserves the highest admiration and congratulations, and a special warm wishes to the Connecticut family of Lt. Griest.
Connecticut’s other senator, Sen. Chris Murphy, also released a statement congratulating the women:
Congrats to both Kristen and Shaye on their extraordinary accomplishments! Kristen and Shaye have more than earned their right to wear Ranger tabs on their uniforms and I know that their achievement represents a monumental step toward ending gender barriers in the military. These women have demonstrated some of the greatest overall strength, and I hope that the Pentagon will act as swiftly as possible to ensure that Kristen, Shaye, and all of the women that follow in their footsteps are able to join the 75th Ranger Regiment if they so choose.
“On behalf of the entire community in Orange and across Connecticut, we are especially proud of Kristen and thank her for all that she has dedicated to our state and our nation.
The two-month Ranger course tests soldiers’ ability to overcome fatigue, hunger and stress during combat operations. The Army opened Ranger School to female soldiers for the first time this year as part of the military’s push to open more combat jobs to women.
“It’s just completely amazing,” Chris Haver, Haver’s father, told The Associated Press. “I’m super proud. I know a lot of guys that have been through it and tell me how hard the course is. They tell me it’s the toughest, most mentally demanding course they’ve been too.”
Both women are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Haver followed in her father’s footsteps when she became a pilot of attack helicopters. He said he also served as a career Army aviator who flew Apaches.
While the graduating female soldiers have earned the coveted black-and-gold Ranger tab to wear on their uniforms, for now they’re still unable to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning.
The military’s toughest jobs remain closed to female soldiers. That included positions in infantry, armor and special operations units such as the Ranger Regiment.