WASHINGTON — A National Guard soldier is set to become the Army’s first female Green Beret in coming weeks, according to military officials, following the Pentagon’s opening of all combat and Special Operations jobs to women in 2016.
The woman, an enlisted soldier, is in the final stage of training before graduating from the roughly yearlong qualification course, or Q Course, as a Special Forces engineer sergeant. Her graduation is almost guaranteed, officials said, although occasionally soldiers have failed the course this late in the training or withdrawn because of injuries.
A spokesman for Army Special Operations Command would not release any information on the soldier, citing security concerns.
The soldier is one of only a handful of women who have passed the initial 24-day assessment program that acts as a screening process before the qualification course. The weekslong screening regimen tests candidates on fundamental military skills, including land navigation and marching with heavy combat gear before they are evaluated by Special Forces supervisors — and either denied entry or accepted into the qualification course.
At least one other woman, a medical sergeant, also is in the qualification course.
The course’s length depends on the soldier’s military job, which for the Green Berets includes specialties such as intelligence and operations, weapons, medical, engineering and communications. All are front line combat positions, and Green Berets have been central to America’s wars since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 700 female soldiers have been allowed into previously restricted combat jobs out of the roughly 65,000 women in the Army. In 2017, a woman was accepted into the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite light infantry unit that operates alongside the Army’s most prestigious commando teams under the Joint Special Operations Command.
More than a dozen women have graduated from the Army’s arduous Ranger school, including Capt. Kristen M. Griest, who became the Army’s first female infantry officer in 2016.
“I do hope that, with our performance in Ranger school, we’ve been able to inform that decision as to what they can expect from women in the military,” Captain Griest said when she graduated in 2015. “We can handle things physically and mentally on the same level as men.”
The Army Special Forces, known colloquially as the Green Berets, is one of the last Army assignments without any women. Used for missions around the world, Green Berets span a continuum of missions from “soft power” — inoculating local children from disease and building rapport with local leaders — to intense combat operations. They are traditionally assigned to unconventional warfare missions, which often means training and equipping friendly local forces and militaries, as well as counterinsurgency operations.
The elite unit, championed by President John F. Kennedy, gained national recognition during the Vietnam War.
Special Forces troops are deployed today in conflict zones such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, replacing conventional troops as the backbone for the United States’ long wars by training and then fighting alongside U.S.-backed allied forces in those countries.
Earlier this month, two Special Forces soldiers, Sgt. First Class Javier J. Gutierrez and Sgt. First Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, were killed in eastern Afghanistan when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them in what was described as an insider attack.