Last week, the military community was informed that two West Point graduates have become the first females to graduate from the Army’s Elite Ranger School. While the news set off a stirring debate about women in the infantry, consistent standards, and the integrity of the Ranger program, much of America missed what is perhaps the most comforting element of this entire story. Most certainly, Captain Kristen Griest and First Lt. Shay Haver deserve a tremendous amount of respect for what they accomplished. Ranger school is no easy path and those who endured it to the end should always be commended. However, it was when I heard that these two ladies were in fact West Point graduates that I breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself, yep, that sounds about right. For the future of our Military as an institution will always change, but one thing remains. That the future will always begin with our military academies.
Tradition and Heritage
For those that attended any of the various military academies, you are well of aware of the history that has developed our nation’s officer corps for over 200 years. Or just a good 60 years if you are one of our Air Force brethren, but we welcome you all the same. And during this time, we have seen revolutions in the military regarding race, gender, technology, and the nature of warfare itself. Yet, the institution that is our military itself has always adapted and always endured.
America often fails to realize just how unique a successive military culture is and why it is the envy of the world. We can point to our superior technology and massive economy as the reason, but that would be misleading. You could examine our attempts to train the militaries of Iraq and Afghanistan these past 10 years and see that we have given them American training and equipment with little success. Many of those men in the Iraqi or Afghan Army are 18-year-olds much like our own recruits, but one has to ask the question why they run and we fight.
The Ak-47s they use are on a relatively equal playing field with American weapons and yet in the hands of an American-trained Iraqi, they fail to live up to the highest traditions of military service. Well, you can surmise your own answer as to why, but I say they have no heritage and tradition for which to fight. A professional military can easily have well-trained bodies, but without heritage it crumbles for lack of a soul.
Academies Lead the Way
Not to take anything away from the Rangers who most certainly lead the way, but our Academies are at the forefront of our military heritage and it was comforting in the face of such a vivid debate about women in the infantry that Academy graduates were on the leading edge. This means as it always has, our Academies are producing officers of the finest quality and the most courageous in spirit.
I don’t know Capt. Griest or Lt. Shaver personally, but I do know West Point officers. It might very well be that they are taking the task of women in the infantry on behalf of women everywhere, but I have another theory. We understand that our nation’s military will continue to evolve as technology and societal norms shift. The conversation about women in the infantry will not cease and these two leaders from one of our fine institutions stepped into the fire of that debate because someone had to. It was inevitable that women would be thrust into this rigorous environment and it pleases me to no end to see two of our finest as the first.
There is a lot America must work out as a society and much to which the Military must adapt. It really doesn’t matter where you land on this debate or what you think about women in the infantry. For as long as our military academies continue to produce officers of quality, we will adapt, we will overcome, and we will endure. Such heritage is worth more than America will ever truly know. But if you have walked the halls of our great academies, then you expected nothing less. To the future, where Academy graduates will be leading the way.
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