When the Defense Secretary announced a decision to lift all gender-based restrictions on military service in 2014, the Army began an experimental program to test women’s capabilities in combat by inviting a select group of women to attend Army Ranger School -considered the toughest training in the U.S. military. Orange native, Kristen M. Griest jumped at the chance.
“Being held to that higher expectation made all the difference for me. Suddenly there was someone with experience and authority not only saying I could do this, but that I should do it because my soldiers deserve my best effort. It was like, OK, I’m not outstanding if I meet this standard, I’m letting someone down if I don’t meet it.”
Griest was born in New Haven, Connecticut on January 19, 1989 to Tom and Laura Griest. Their second child. When her brother joined the Cub Scouts, Kristen saw the activities that they did and wanted to have the same experiences. As Tom was a Cub Master, he included her in whenever possible like building her own pine-wood derby car and getting to race it, if only unofficially. Through scout and family camping trips and paintball excursions, Kristen learned that she could keep up with or even outperform many of the boys her age.
She graduated Amity High School in June of 2007 and immediately reported to West Point for “Beast Barracks,” a grueling training period for all new cadet candidates at the United States Military Academy. As a cadet in a class of approximately 17% women, her day was filled with not only academics and military training. Additionally, Kristen ran cross-country with the West Point team her Fall semester. In the Spring, she was awarded a position on her company's Sandhurst Competition Team – which is a team that competes against other U.S. and international military schools in tactical exercises. One of her mentors at West Point, an officer who had served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, ran an Infantry mentorship program for male cadets. As a senior, Kristen and a few other female cadets were invited to join them with one condition: they had to meet every physical standard set for the men and would be rated on the same scale.
She graduated from West Point in 2011 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, beginning a five-year minimum commitment to active military service. Kristen selected the Military Police branch, the option available to women at the time that she felt would give her experience closest to the infantry. She was assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team “Currahee” of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). She served as an MP Platoon Leader from 2012-2014 and during that time was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. Supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, she led over 100 missions outside the wire performing convoy escorts and working with the Afghan Army. During her deployment, Kristen was awarded a Bronze Star Medal.
In January 2015, the Army invited Griest to join a select group of 109 women to attend Army Ranger School out of an application pool of 400. Ranger School includes a minimum of two months of demanding physical fitness tests undergoing grueling marches, obstacle courses, and parachute jumps with minimal food and sleep, as well as 27 days of mock combat patrols where soldiers must prove their leadership abilities to their instructors and peers. After a mandatory pre-Ranger School course, only 19 women were invited to begin Ranger School training.
Phase One at Camp Darby at Fort Benning began at 4:00 am with 49 push-ups, 59 situps, six chin-ups and a 5-mile run in under 40 minutes. Three of the 19 women left the course by noon.
Phase One of Ranger School includes RAP Week (Ranger Assessment Phase) and then patrols. Kristen was one of only 8 women to move on to patrols. More than half of the men had been dropped.
The patrol phase proved to be even tougher and none of the eight women got a “go” to move on to the next phase and were recycled along with all of the men that were recycled. Recycling is a normal process of Ranger School, with most recycling at least one phase, some recycling two phases, and a few recycling three phases. Three days later they began “Darby” phase again. Once more, after weeks of training and patrols none of the eight women passed the graded patrols.
On May 29, 2015, the women were told one by one that they were being dropped from Ranger School. Kristen was determined to do everything she could to stay in the course. With limited options and knowing that “Day 1 Recycles” are given to those that are improving and close to getting a “go”, she asked to be a “Day 1 Recycle”. A “Day 1 Recycle” means you start at the very beginning (RAP week) instead of just doing Darby Phase again. She was sent out of the office while the commander discussed it with the Ranger instructors. Kristen waited outside the office. Ten minutes later, she was called back in. After six weeks of grueling and exhausting training, she was asked by Colonel Fivecoat if she thought she could handle Rap Week again to which she replied “yes”. She was required to prove this by immediately doing the push-ups while a Ranger instructor watched to ensure that each push-up was to the standard. Kristen was able to do the push-ups and earned her chance to go back to Day 1 of RAP week.
Three women were returned to Day 1 and on August 21, 2015, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver became the first two women to earn Ranger tabs. Kristen was formally promoted to Captain on the same day. The third woman, Lisa Jaster, completed the course in October 2015. Having shown that some women are capable to handle the demands of Ranger School, the U.S. Military opened all combat positions to women without exception on December 3, 2015.
In April 2016, Captain Griest earned her blue Infantry cords upon graduation from Maneuver Captains Career Course. She requested a transfer from her Military Police unit and became the first female infantry officer in the United States Army. She was assigned to 4th Ranger Training Battalion of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade at Ft. Benning as a platoon tactical trainer. Her assignment, ironically, was to be an instructor for the Darby Phase of Ranger School.
Captain Griest remains in active military service.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.