FORT SILL, Okla. -- Second lieutenant Kelly Derienzo shed her long hair Jan. 11 to be one of the first women allowed to go to Fort Benning's Pre-Ranger Course.
It's one of many steps the Army is taking to integrate women into combat roles.
"With the Army now saying females are leading combat arms Soldiers, it wouldn't be right for them not to go to Ranger School. It's a leadership school," said Capt. Jonathan Worswick, Fort Sill Pre-Ranger Course officer in charge. "If they can't be afforded the opportunity to get the best leadership training the Army can give then we've done a disservice to all the people we're asking them to lead."
Ranger School, which opened in 1952, trains Soldiers in infantry-related skills.
Last November the Army chose 31 women: 11 officers and 20 noncommissioned officers to be observer/advisers for the school.
The Army has now allocated 40 seats for female candidates in each iteration of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, the school's Pre-Ranger Course, between January and April.
Derienzo left Fort Sill Monday for the first iteration.
"It's almost a bit of a shock. I didn't come into this expecting this at all. I guess things line up and I'm really lucky I'm granted these opportunities and I've just got to run with it," she said.
Derienzo passed Fort Sill's Pre-Ranger Course, which is how male Soldiers earn a slot in the prestigious school.
"We've always had females participate in the Pre-Ranger program here as far back as I can remember," said Worswick. "I'm glad they're finally getting to do something more than Pre-Ranger Program 1-30th FA."
The course here, ran by captains who are also attending the Captains Career Course, was instrumental in deciding who could have what it takes in this historic undertaking.
"The key thing for me is if a female is interested in the program then we will do everything in our power to prepare them for Ranger School," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Jelly, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery commander. "It's an Army program so I support it 100 percent. If they prove they can do it, more power to them."
Derienzo is not the only woman Fort Sill has deemed worthy.
Going through the post Pre-Ranger Program before her, 2nd Lt. Maychee Zah, is also looking to go to Benning for training.
"I definitely feel humbled and honored to get the chance to go," said Zah, now assigned to 2nd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery. "Ranger School teaches you infantry tactics and I feel like in field artillery you need to know that side."
Zah had completed the course here and Derienzo was halfway through before the Army announced it would allow women to move forward.
Worswick said the level of motivation they showed without knowing they had the chance of moving on was impressive.
"Both lieutenants Zah and Derienzo have gone above the expectations and standards that most of their male or female counterparts have," he said.
Zah finished fifth out of nine candidates in the course and Derienzo finished seventh out of 14.
"Not only do I think they're going to be successful in Ranger School, but their numbers prove they should be successful," said Worswick.
He said the course here is meant to prepare Soldiers for the physical tests they will endure in Ranger School.
Sixty percent of all Ranger School failures occur in the first four days.
Many are disqualified during the physical fitness test on the first day. The test gives candidates two minutes to do 49 push-ups; two minutes to do 59 sit-ups; and 40 minutes to run five miles. They must also do six chin-ups.
"To be quite honest I don't know if I'm going to end up with a tab. It's not really a concern for me, that's not my goal. My goal in going through all of this is the experience and just knowing that I'm going to get leadership lessons out of this and one day hopefully those lessons I've learned and this experience are going to translate into being a better leader and saving the lives of my Soldiers," said Derienzo.
To move on, she had to cut her hair to 1/4 of an inch or an inch from her scalp.
She decided to let her BOLCclassmates help her get into regulation standards.
"I don't look at a group of people and feel uncomfortable as being the only female. It's a new experience, but I don't know that it feels weird. I just hope, if nothing else, this shows them there's nothing to really be afraid of and women can operate in the same way."