Happening Today: Two women will graduate from Army Ranger course

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(CNN) — Two women are about to make history by becoming the first female soldiers to graduate from the Army’s exhausting Ranger School.

They’re among the 96 students who will graduate from the intensive training program Friday in Fort Benning, Georgia.

This was the first year the Army opened the course to women on a trial basis.

“This course has proven that every Soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said in a statement.

But it’s not clear what awaits the female graduates.

Unlike the male graduates, the two women can’t apply to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite special operations force.

The Pentagon isn’t expected to make final decisions about exactly what combat roles women will be allowed to fulfill until later this year.

The fact that women aren’t allowed to perform certain roles comes as a surprise to many millenials, said Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow For Defense Policy Janine Davidson.

“This is an important moment and an important week because I see it as reality and perception catching up with each other,” said Davidson, former U.S. Air Force Aircraft Commander and Senior Pilot. “Women have been on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq and have done a transition here. “So you see policy makers in the Pentagon are ready to say ‘We don’t see any reasons why women can’t be (in certain roles).”

Grueling training

The Pentagon describes Ranger School as “the Army’s premier combat leadership course, teaching Ranger students how to overcome fatigue, hunger, and stress to lead Soldiers during small unit combat operations.”

The current class started in April with 381 men and 19 women. The students were forced to train with minimal food and little sleep and had to learn how to operate in the woods, mountains and swamplands.

Students also had to undergo a physical fitness test that included 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, a 5-mile run in 40 minutes, six chin-ups, a swim test, a land navigation test, a 12-mile foot march in three hours, several obstacle courses, four days of military mountaineering, three parachute jumps, four air assaults on helicopters, and 27 days of mock combat patrols.

By the end of the 62-day course, only 94 men and two women met all the requirements.

The Pentagon did not identify the names of the Rangers set to graduate Friday.

Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who has reported on women in the military, said the graduation could increase women’s interest in certain military positions.

And she expects the rangers’ graduation to increase society’s acceptance of women in military roles traditionally held by men.

“The women who are out there performing the jobs, they are the people who are changing people’s minds,” said Lemmon, who has reported on the experiences of women in the military.

Davidson said when she went through training to be a pilot it was essential to her and her female peers that they be held to the same standards as men.

“No one I knew met the women’s standard they made it a point to meet the men’s standard because we knew that that was just going to fuel that attitude of people who didn’t want women there,” she said.