Fort Carson's female Ranger, male classmate share spotlight on post
By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 11, 2016
Lt. Shaye Haver and Staff Sgt. Michael Calderon had a hard time making it through the Army's elite Ranger School last summer.
Grueling weeks included near-starvation, sleep deprivation and physical exertion that took them to their breaking point. Trainers said it would make them leaders.
No one told them they would become celebrities.
"It's been a little bit fun," admitted Haver, a Fort Carson attack helicopter pilot who says she can't stop by the post exchange for a cup of coffee without a half-hour detour to chat about her Ranger experience.
"It's cool to meet people," said Calderon, a sniper in the post's 2nd Brigade Combat Team who also finds himself getting quizzed by troops about the training.
The two gained fame at the same time six months ago. Calderon was the top graduate from the course, which will get any soldier noticed. Haver, along with a female captain, was the first woman to earn the Ranger title, gaining her a flurry of international notice.
Wednesday, the two spoke for the first time since graduating Ranger school in August.
The graduation was praised as a breakthrough for military women, and criticized by those who say putting women on the front lines will cut the Army's combat effectiveness.
"I think the questions are valid," Haver said, noting that she went to the school the push her Army career rather than strike a blow for equality.
Calderon, though, said women in uniform weren't a top concern when he went through the course. It was weeks, he said, before he realized he had female classmates.
He said he was too busy dreaming about food.
"Oh my gosh, the hunger was horrible," Calderon said.
Haver spent 124 days in Ranger school, failing then repeating stages. At one point, she was pulled into a room and questioned about whether she wanted to carry on.
She wouldn't quit, proving her determination with 49 push-ups right there on the spot.
"They were giving us the opportunity of a lifetime," said Haver, a West Point graduate who has served three years in the Army.
Calderon said his female classmates met the same tough standards as the men and proved their worth.
He earned the title of honor graduate, but it wasn't easy.
"I was pretty broken after that school," he said.
Haver said she got through the school by thinking about her platoon at Fort Carson. She couldn't let them down.
"You have to keep reminding yourself about what keeps you here," she said.
Calderon had soldiers from his unit pen inspiration messages inside his patrol cap. When times got tough, he pulled of his hat and did some reading.
"Quitting is not an option for me," he said.
Each thought about quitting. Instructors offered Ranger students a warm bed and a hot meal if they gave up.
"For me, it would have been a long walk in the mountains," Haver said of her breaking point, which came during a night hike through woods.
Calderon said he questioned his career choice during tough times at the school.
"I almost convinced myself that I didn't have to be in the Army," he said.
After graduating, Calderon and Haver also completed airborne school, earning them parachutist's wings.
They say their experiences are paying off at Fort Carson.
"It's learning to lead through what everyone else is going through," Haver explained.
"I'm thankful I went," Calderon said.
Haver wouldn't talk about Army policy on women in combat, which has changed radically since she became a Ranger. Now, the Pentagon has ordered all jobs open to women who can meet physical requirements.
She did say that Ranger school taught her something about being a woman in camouflage, though.
"What it boils down to is the right soldier in the right job, not gender," Haver said.
©2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) at www.gazette.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.