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Defense Secretary Ash Carter: "Clearly, these two soldiers are trailblazers"

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

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

CNN  — 

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver made history Friday as the first two women to graduate from the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger School.

The two received their tabs as part of Ranger Class 08-15 at Fort Benning, Georgia, marking a historic moment in the integration of women in the U.S. military, after completing weeks of grueling physical training across woods, mountains and swamplands.

At an outdoor ceremony, Maj. Gen. Austin S. Miller, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, addressed critics who questioned whether standards of the rigorous course were lowered for the two female Rangers. They met every requirement the men did, he said.

“Standards are still the same … a 5-mile run is still a 5-mile run,” he said. “Standards do not change. A 12-mile march is still a 12-mile march.”

Miller added, “When I shake your hand, I know there’s something behind that handshake. Rangers lead the way.”

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,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told reporters. ” And after all, that’s what it means to be a Ranger. Rangers lead the way.”

The two women, who have been hailed as pioneers for passing the course in the first year the Army has opened it to women on a trial basis, spoke publicly about their achievement with modesty at a news conference Wednesday.

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

‘It’s not exclusively a male domain here’

Major Gen. Austin S. Miller, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, described the two female soldiers as “physically and mentally very capable” and said the standards of the course were not changed.

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

Haver was a cross-country runner in her Texas high school and graduated in 2008, The Washington Post reported.

“To Mom and Dad: Thank you for being the voice of reason and helping me through the hard times. I couldn’t have done this without you,” she wrote in 2012 yearbook at West Point.

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.

Grueling leadership training

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

The current class started in April at Fort Benning, Georgia, 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

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