A series of online conversations in the foreign policy community this week has women asking the question, ‘can we have it all?’ with predominant voices – both male and female – saying no. For female service members, however, new options may mean they can have it all – at least when it comes to taking on male-dominated billets.

As reported in a series of recent articles in the Army Times , U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is considering possible options towards a more inclusive role for women in combat assignments, to include Ranger School. He is asking senior commanders to provide him with recommendations and a plan this summer.

“If we determine that we’re going to allow women to go in the infantry and be successful, they are probably at some time going to have to go through Ranger school,” Odierno told reporters. “If we decide to do this, we want the women to be successful.”

A logical starting place towards moving more women into combat roles would be the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, which has been open to women since 1999. The Sapper Leader Course is run nine times a year out of the Army Engineer School.

A sapper is a soldier who performs a variety of military engineering and general construction, and is trained to serve as infantry personnel in defensive and offensive operations.

To wear the Sapper Tab, a soldier must be a Graduate of the Sapper Leader Course which is operated by the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Sapper Leader Course is a 28-day course designed to train joint-service leaders in small unit tactics, leadership skills, and tactics required to perform as part of a combined arms team. The course is open to enlisted Soldiers in the grades of E-4 (in the Army, specialist) and above, cadets, and officers O-3 (Army, captain) and below. As students can come from any combat or combat support branch of the service, female soldiers are permitted to attend, but priority is given to engineering, cavalry, and infantry soldiers.  The course is divided into two Phases:


The first 14 days cover general subjects including medical, land navigation, demolitions, air and water operations, mountaineering, landmines and weapons used by enemy forces


The remaining 14 days cover basic patrolling techniques and battle drills that emphasize leadership. The subjects include urban operations, breaching, patrol organization and movement, and reconnaissance, raid and ambush tactics. It concludes with a three-day situation training exercise, and five-day field training exercise. These missions are a 60/40 mix of engineer and infantry missions. Each training event is graded and scored. To graduate, a sapper must earn 700 out of 1000 points in order to wear the sapper tab.

“We have to continue to attempt to look at, do we open up infantry and armor MOSs to females?” Odierno said. “We’re really now in collecting information, and we’re setting a course forward on how we might take a look at this.”

And while he stressed that no decisions have been made, he suggested that Ranger school may be a next step for women as they move into more jobs closer to the combat lines.


Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who currently works as a professional writer, blogger, social media expert, commentator, editor and public affairs practitioner. Diana previously worked as an editor and senior communications analyst for the Department of Defense.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.