The first-ever Army Ranger School with female students opened on Monday with 16 of 19 female soldiers passing the initial physical fitness test, as the Pentagon continues to assess which new combat roles women should have.

The class includes 380 men and 19 women, said Gary Jones, an Army spokesman. Of those, 78 men (20.5 percent) and three women (15.7 percent) failed the initial fitness test, he said. Twenty women had qualified to attend by first completing a 17-day preparatory course at Fort Benning, but one of them withdrew. The news was first reported by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer near Fort Benning, Georgia, which is home to Ranger School.

Ranger School was opened to women on a one-time basis by the Army following a directive from senior Pentagon officials to research how they can be better integrated into combat units. Any woman who graduates from Ranger School this spring will wear the service's prestigious Ranger tab on her uniform, but will not be assigned to the Ranger Regiment, the elite force that carries out special operations and remains closed to women.

The physical fitness test requires each soldier to complete at least 49 push-ups, 59-sit-ups, a five-mile run in under 40 minutes and six chin-ups. It's part of the initial four-day Ranger Assessment Phase, commonly known as "RAP Week." The Ranger School itself spans 62 days and has a graduation rate of about 50 percent.

The initial assessment phase typically eliminates about 60 percent of all students. Over the next several days, it also will include a 12-mile road march while carrying 45 pounds, a land-navigation exercise without the use of GPS, and a water survival test that includes climbing a 35-foot tower, walking 70 feet across a log and crawling along a rope before dropping 35 feet into the water.

About 75 percent of students who make it through RAP week eventually graduate, Ranger School officials say. But it takes months in some cases. Students can fail individual portions of Ranger School multiple times before either washing out of the course or moving onto the next section.

The initial phases of Ranger School will continue at Fort Benning. Later parts include mountain warfare training at Camp Merrill, about 65 miles north of Atlanta in Dahlonega, Georgia, and swamp training around Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

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