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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: "Clearly, these two soldiers are trail blazers"

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver are to graduate alongside 94 men

They will be the first women to graduate from the Army's Ranger School

CNN  — 

After completing weeks of grueling physical training across woods, mountains and swamplands, two women have made history: They will be the first to graduate from the Army’s exhausting Ranger School.

When Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver receive their Ranger tabs, it will be “a monumental and joyous occasion” for them and the other 94 students graduating with them, a family statement issued Wednesday said.

Griest, of Connecticut, is an Airborne-qualified military police officer. Haver, a Texas resident, is an Apache helicopter pilot.

“Clearly, these two soldiers are trailblazers,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters Thursday.

‘Awesome to be a part of history’

The women have been hailed as pioneers for passing the course in the first year the Army has opened it to women on a trial basis.

“We felt like we were contributing as much as the men, and we felt that they felt that way, too,” Griest said.

The pressure of paving the way for future generations was not lost on her, she said.

“For me, the biggest accomplishment was that it was a goal I had for so long,” Griest said. “It was always just about trying to get the best training that the Army can offer us.”

Haver said it was “definitely awesome to be part of history.”

The women in her class “came to Ranger School as skeptics, with our guards up, just in case of the haters and naysayers, but we didn’t come with a chip on our shoulder with anything to prove,” Haver said.

She added, “I think the battles that we won were individual. … We were kind of winning hearts and minds as we went.”

Some of their male classmates said the two women at various points in the course were the only ones to volunteer to take on the heavy weight of their male counterparts.

“You’re way too tired and way too hungry to really honestly care,” one soldier said of the female classmates. “At the end of the day, everyone was a Ranger.”

Miller on Thursday described the two female soldiers as “physically and mentally very capable” and said the standards of the course were not changed.

“We’ve shown that it’s not exclusively a male domain here,” he said.

There’s no question they’ve earned the tabs that will be pinned on them.

Background prepared them

Haver was a cross-country runner in her Texas high school and graduated in 2008.

“Haver was the most intense; she was the most vocal, she wasn’t afraid to speak up,” Sgt. 1st Class Tiffany Myrick, a military police noncommissioned officer who served as an observer and adviser at Ranger Schools, told Defense One.

“Haver was more of my personality – when she wanted to get something done, she was like, ‘Get over and let’s get it done.’… When I watched Haver patrol, when she was yelling at the guys to get in position and get moving, I just kind of chuckled to myself because that is something I would do or say, so I laughed to myself at that. She was well respected and that stood out a lot and that also reflected her leadership style as well.”

Griest was picked as the distinguished honor graduate of a course run in December to prepare soldiers for Ranger School, according to a Facebook post by her reported unit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

“The Army announced earlier this year that it would begin allowing females to attend Ranger School, and 1LT Griest is well on her way to making history!” it said.

Myrick said Griest “was quiet, and looking at her, you wouldn’t think she could perform as well as she did. … Quiet but very strong and very humble,” she told Defense One.

“She was great at planning. Her op orders that she gave were very thorough. She didn’t leave out anything. That stood out to me, and during her patrol she looked strong. She was a good team player when she was a squad leader, so I thought that stood out as well.”

The Pentagon describes Ranger School as “the Army’s premier combat leadership course, teaching Ranger students how to overcome fatigue, hunger, and stress to lead soldiers during small unit combat operations.”

Women in combat: More than a dozen nations already doing it

A demanding course in the wild

The current class started in April at Fort Benning, with 381 men and 19 women. The students were forced to train with minimal food and little sleep and had to learn how to operate in the woods, mountains and swamplands.

Students also had to undergo a physical fitness test that included 49 pushups, 59 situps, a 5-mile run in 40 minutes, six chin-ups, a swim test, a land navigation test, a 12-mile foot march in three hours, several obstacle courses, four days of military mountaineering, three parachute jumps, four air assaults on helicopters and 27 days of mock combat patrols.

By the end of the 62-day course, 94 men and two women met all the requirements.

It’s not clear what awaits the female graduates, however.

Unlike the male graduates, the two women can’t apply to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite special operations force.

The Pentagon isn’t expected to make final decisions about exactly what combat roles women will be allowed to fill until later this year.

Army Ranger female graduates won’t be last

Both Griest and Haver graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York – the former in 2011 and the latter in 2012, according to Kimberly A. McDermott, communications director for the West Point Alumni Association.

“I knew it just by their performance during the smoke sessions how they stood out,” Myrick told Defense One. “A lot of people were kind of hurting and they still looked strong – smoke session is like exercises and corrective training. That is what made them stand out was their performance during all the physical events.”

When World War II brought women to battlefield

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Holly Yan, Eugene Scott and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.