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Retired Army colonel worried Rangers would have to lower standards to admit females

Some retired Rangers are concerned about standards of the elite fighting force as Army leaders study the prospect of sending female soldiers to Ranger School.

"A woman can not make it through Ranger school unless we lower the standards," said retired Col. Paul R. Longgrear, a Pine Mountain resident who served in Vietnam.

Retired 1st Sgt. David Lockett of Columbus also is concerned about standards. "If you lower the standards you are lowering the prestige of the Ranger we've had for so long in the Army," said Lockett, who served as a Ranger in Vietnam and as an instructor at Fort Benning. "We go back over 200 years. We have a proud heritage, one that will stand with any combat unit or military force."

Those thoughts were expressed Wednesday after Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said he asked senior commanders to provide him with recommendations and a plan this summer. He stressed that no decisions have been made but suggested that Ranger school may be a logical next step for women as they move into jobs more closer to the combat lines.

"If we determine that we're going to allow women to go in the infantry and be successful, they are probably at some time going to have to go through Ranger school," Odierno told reporters. "If we decide to do this, we want the women to be successful."

Only about 40 percent make it through Ranger school on their first attempt. The Department of Defense allows soldiers who don't make it through the first time to keep trying.

About 90 percent of senior Army infantry officers have gone to the school and are qualified as Rangers. Allowing women to go to Rangers school would allow them to be competitive with their male counterparts as they move through the ranks.

Longgrear wondered what will happen with women in the Ranger school trying to meet current standards.

"It's going to be crossing a line that you are going to say, 'if they don't lower the standards,'" he said. "These Rangers today are equal to the Spartans in history and the Greeks, the great soldiers and armies we admire in history. These Rangers today are the greatest fighting soldiers in the world, and, in my opinion, in the history of the world. I do not believe that a woman can compete and that is in the terms he is using. I'm not sure what they are competing for."

Going to Ranger school, however, does not automatically mean women would be allowed to serve in one of the Army's three elite Ranger battalions, including one at Fort Benning. In fact, many male soldiers who wear the Ranger tab on their uniforms never actually serve in one of the three battalions.

Currently, women are not allowed to serve as special operations, infantry or armor forces, which are considered the most dangerous combat jobs. They are, however, allowed to serve in a number of support jobs such as medics, military police and intelligence officers that are sometimes attached to combat brigade units.

Odierno said his commanders are looking at whether the Army should open up infantry and armor jobs to women, and how that should be done.

Women make up about 16 percent of the Army.

As a Ranger who has served on long-term patrols and in the field for several days, Lockett said he is not one to belittle women, but he is aware of combat situations that Rangers experience.

"Look at sanitation problems for women as it pertains to men," Lockett said. "A man can go without bathing or shaving for days on days off. It's going to be a sanitation problem for women in that task."

Lockett said he is neutral on the proposal until a decision is made.

"I'm just going to wait and see," Lockett said.

If the Army is going to be equal, Longgrear said he has lived and worked in Israel where men and women soldiers don't have separate bathroom facilities.

"If that is where we are going and women can make it through Ranger school, God bless her," he said. "They are going to have to lower the standards to do it and that will be a shame."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.