Two women will make history on Friday as the first to graduate the Army's Ranger School

By Maria Coder and Susan Keating
Updated August 18, 2015 03:15 PM
Credit: Nick Tomecek/Northwest Florida Daily News/AP

Two female soldiers will make history this week as the first to graduate from the Army’s grueling and legendary Ranger School, the U.S. Army said Monday.

“This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said in a statement, emailed to PEOPLE.

The two women are both in their 20s. Their names have not been released. They are part of a test group of 19 women soldiers who passed a rigorous screening process to begin the course, which had never been open to women since it started more than 60 years ago, CNN reports.

The graduation, set for this Friday, marks a major milestone in the military’s efforts to examine how to integrate women into positions in which they have not yet been allowed to serve, The Washington Post reports.

Despite the monumental accomplishments, the new female graduates won’t be allowed to try out for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment. “The women who successfully completed and graduate from the Ranger course will receive a certificate of completion and be awarded and authorized to wear the Ranger Tab. They will return to their unit,” Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told PEOPLE. “They will not go on to serve in a Ranger Regiment.”

The current training class started in April with 381 men and 19 women but ended its 62-day run with only 94 men and two women.

The students were made to train with little food and sleep over two months. They also had to endure various physical fitness tests, including carrying more than 100 pounds of gear through challenging terrain and taking part in parachute jumps, air assaults on helicopters, relentless days of mock combat patrols and much more. The course is considered to be the Army’s most physically challenging.

While there are still hurdles ahead, news of the women’s graduating quickly spread online. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer and the author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, praised the women’s victory on Facebook, posting a link to a story and writing that “they showed the world how much strength women have. My thanks to both of them for paving the way for women to lean in to leadership and strength.” Sandberg also wrote: “Trailblazers matter: these women may be the first, but they won’t be the last.”

The students will graduate at a ceremony in Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of Ranger School s headquarters.

Last week, retiring Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said that any soldier who remained in Ranger School – male or female – can meet the standards the service has established for a job and should be able to serve in it, the Post reports.

Odierno also said he expects the Army to start another Ranger School course in November, which it will again study to decide if the course will be open to women permanently.