For the first time in American history, a female Soldier has completed U.S. Army Special Forces training and has earned the right to don the legendary Green Beret.
Despite how often people get the moniker wrong, Special Forces is only a title that applies to the U.S. Army's elite special operations Green Berets. SEALs, Rangers, Marine Raiders and others all fall under the broader term of "Special Operations," but only the Green Berets are rightfully called Special Forces.
"Good for her! It was only a matter of time and I would guess it will become more and more common over the next few years, across USSOF."
-Former Navy SEAL/CIA Officer Frumentarius
Special Forces Assessment and Selection (US Army)
In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the formal ban on women serving in combat roles, and in 2016 all military occupational specialties were opened up to female service members, including those in elite special operations fields.
"There will be no exceptions," former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in 2015. "They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men."
The identity of the woman that fought her way through all six phases of Special Forces training has not been revealed, citing privacy concerns for the Army's newest Green Beret, but the impact of her accomplishment remains.
"We don't need to know her name or see her to be inspired by her, just knowing that there is a female green beret can motivate any Soldier to do better or to reach for their goals."
-Specialist Hannah Johnson, Utah National Guard
What we do know about this history-making Soldier is that she was among only a handful of females that made it through the initial 24-day assessment that serves as a screening to eliminate those who may not have the mental or physical capacity to complete the training. Now, even with Special Forces training behind the America's female Green Beret, her days of training are far from over. Once you earn a spot in a Special Operations unit, training is continuous to ensure special operators are well prepared for any challenges they may face.
Special Forces Green Beret soldiers from each of the Army's seven Special Forces Groups stand silent watch during the wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of President John F. Kennedy (U.S. Army Photo)
Former Green Beret NCO and Warrant Officer Steve Balestrieri used to oversee portions of the selection process, and earlier this year wrote an article for Sandboxx News entitled, "Women Passing Special Forces Selection? Yes you can," in which he outlines the challenges all aspiring Green Berets must face, as well as some that are specific to females serving in that capacity. We asked Balestrieri how he feels about seeing this historic event unfold.
"I think that (from what I heard from those who know), this woman had no corners cut for her, and not only met but exceeded the standards. For her, now the journey really begins. I truly wish her all the best."
-Former Green Beret Steve Balestrieri
As Balestrieri writes in his piece, some members of the Special Operations community may well harbor some outdated beliefs when it comes to women serving in these elite roles, but as he points out (and our discussions with other Special Operations veterans seem to further prove), many of America's elite warfighters are happy to see their female peers work their way into their elite company.
"I wish her all the best, I hope she crushes it. There are a lot of outside opinions that ultimately don't matter so long as she does her job and does it well."
"At the end of the day, SOF is a place where politics don't really matter as long as you can do your job to standard."
-Luke Ryan, Former Army Ranger
A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier with the National Guard shares best practices to U.S. and Chile counterparts. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite/Released)
Green Berets are tasked with a number of difficult mission sets in combat environments, from direct action operations to training foreign military forces to provide their own defense. Alongside their peers in the Special Operations community, Green Berets have served as part of the backbone of America's presence in Global War on Terror operations the world over.
Earning the right to wear the Green Beret is an incredible feat for any Soldier, but becoming the first female to earn one is not only historic, it's an important message to Soldiers of all types across the force: Being a man is not a prerequisite to becoming one of America's most elite war fighters. Because the history-making Soldier serves in the National Guard, it also shines a valuable light on the opportunities service members of both genders have in both active and reserve capacities.
"I mean it's a major win for females everywhere, it's bigger than just the Army, especially the National Guard. It's proof that women are capable and that institutions are capable of change. She'll be able to bring her own strengths and capabilities to that community, which will make it better. "
-Specialist Hannah Johnson, Utah National Guard
In 1981, a female Soldier named Capt. Kathleen Wilder was failed as she very nearly completed Special Forces training. After an investigation into her dismissal, it was found that she had "been wrongly denied graduation." Now, nearly four decades later, significant challenges remain for women in military service, but this momentous occasion is a step in the right direction.