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First female soldiers graduate armor officer course

A tank commander directs his crew's fire from the hatch of their M1A1 Abrams tank while engaging targets on the range at Fort Benning, Ga., May 2, 2016.

JON SOUCY/U.S. ARMY

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2016

WASHINGTON — Thirteen recently commissioned female Army officers graduated Thursday from the Basic Armor Officer Leadership Course at Fort Benning, becoming the service’s first female armor officers.

The women were among 68 second lieutenants to graduate the 19-week course that teaches the baseline skills officers need to lead tank or cavalry platoons, the Army post in Georgia announced in a brief statement. The officers were commissioned in the spring through either ROTC, Officer Candidate School or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

It will be several months before the women take command of a platoon. Army officials said the officers are expected to attend additional training courses before they are assigned to units.

For some of the new armor officers, the training will include Ranger School, from which only three women have graduated.

As with the 10 female infantry officers who graduated from Fort Benning’s Basic Infantry Officer Leadership Course in October, the female armor officers are expected to be assigned to units at Fort Hood in Texas or Fort Bragg in North Carolina in the second or third quarter of 2017.

The class began with 15 female officers, according to the Army. It was not clear Thursday whether the two who did not complete the course would be offered another chance to pass it.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter cleared the way for women to serve in traditionally all-male military fields such as armor and the infantry in December 2015 when he ordered all jobs in the armed forces open to female troops.

The controversial decision was supported by many top military officials. Only the Marine Corps asked Carter to continue the ban on women serving in some front-line combat jobs.

The general at Fort Benning who oversees infantry and armor training said recently that opening infantry and armor positions to women will only strengthen the Army.

“This whole issue has driven us to ensure that we have the right standards aligned to each occupational specialty in the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, the commander of the post’s Maneuver Center of Excellence. “We have created a gender-neutral, standards-based training environment, where it no longer becomes a question of male or female. … It makes us better.”

It is unclear what impact Donald Trump’s election as president could have on women serving in the previously closed roles. The president-elect has said Carter’s decision was based on “political correctness” and called for its reversal at times during his campaign.

In the meantime, more than 140 women have enlisted in the Army with the intentions of serving in the infantry or armor fields. Those enlistees are expected to being initial entrance training early next year.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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