It was day 6 of training and we were exhausted. Our lives revolved around plotting desperately to get to sleep. It was late… or early when we finally got to take a quick shower to wash off some of the mud, stench, and dried sweat. My bed was near the showers. Standing in line, waiting to shower was a Soldier named Smith*. For whatever reason I decided it was a good time to address the elephant in the room.
"Okay Smith, spill it. Why don’t you think women belong in Ranger School?” On several occasions, Smith said women shouldn’t be at RTAC, Ranger School or in the Infantry. I knew he wouldn’t shy away from the conversation. I suspected his sentiment was pretty common among the men.
RTAC (Ranger Training Assessment Course) is a 16 day course designed to ensure Soldiers have the physical, mental, and tactical attributes necessary to attempt Ranger School. Historically, success at RTAC is a strong indicator of success at Ranger School. The first week includes a Physical Assessment, equipment run, land navigation, etc. Physical requirements dominate every second of the day. Though brief, RTAC is intense and not for the weak or faint-hearted. This RTAC was a little different: it was the first of four RTACs allowing entry to women. As part of the Army’s integration beta study, twenty-six of us showed up on the first day in January 15th, 2015.
Smith, like most of the other men in the course, was around 3-years-old when I joined the Army in 1996. He wasted no time in telling me all the reasons he believed women and men weren't able to execute combat missions together. I had to back him up. "I'm not talking about joining the infantry. I am asking you, after training next to me for the past week, why do you deserve to be here more than me." My RTAC class was small (125 Soldiers in all) and at this point in the training we all knew who the weak candidates were, and I wasn’t one of them. The following conversation was long and cut into our precious sleep, but it was good. It was a game changer.
Smith and I stepped through each of his arguments and a crowd grew around us. I had asked him a very pointed question which included two requirements he hadn't previously faced. First, I wanted him to focus on the reality of where we were at this moment . Second, I wanted him to look me in the face and tell me why I, Lisa Jaster, didn't belong there. What I have discovered over the years is that people put the limitations and personalities of their mothers, sisters, and daughters on all women rather than looking at the capabilities of an individual women. Though spirited, the conversation never turned hostile. We even laughed a few times. He never felt attacked and I never felt I needed to defend myself or my gender. Training beside me was a huge shock for many of these young alpha males. Here was a 37-year-old mother of two doing as well or better than almost all of them. I later finished 2nd out of the 53 male and female graduates.
Two days later, Smith became the class leader. As part of that obligation he had to pick a team of deputies to work with him organizing and carrying out tasks. A funny thing happened - I was one of his first picks.
At the completion of RTAC, Smith and I both received official endorsements to attend Ranger School. I asked him if he still thought that women didn't belong. He said, "My wife is a badass, but she doesn't belong in this world. I still don't like the idea of a woman doing my job. But I'm a southern boy. You are different Jaster. I'd share a foxhole with you."
Lean In Circles offer women in the military and women everywhere the opportunity to learn and grow together. To start or join, go to leanin.org/military.
*Name has been changed