ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Today in Georgia, graduation ceremonies for the first two women to complete the U.S. Army's grueling Ranger training. They are Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver. As Jay Price of member station WUNC reports, it was a big deal for the graduates and also for the pioneering Army women who celebrated with them.
JAY PRICE, BYLINE: Graduation ceremonies at Ranger School are all about showing off the high-end soldiering to their families.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)
PRICE: But this graduation ceremony at Fort Benning was like none other.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRADUATION CEREMONY)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Will all those Ranger-qualified individuals in the audience today who have a son or daughter, a grandson or granddaughter, graduating today, please stand up so we may recognize you.
PRICE: Daughter, granddaughter - that's the first time that someone has said that at a Ranger School graduation. Up in the stands were two families that that applied to for the first time in the school's history. But there was a kind of extended family there too, as Griest and Haver made military history.
LILLIAN PFLUKE: I'm very proud of them. I couldn't be prouder of them if they were my own daughters. In fact, today they are my daughters. They're all of our daughters that have helped on this journey
PRICE: That's Lillian Pfluke, widely known as Lil, in the close-knit sisterhood of early female West Point graduates. Pfluke was in the first class of them to graduate back in 1980. Nine from her class and dozens more from other West Point classes came to Georgia to watch this extraordinary moment for women in the military. Pfluke flew in from Germany yesterday.
PFLUKE: It is the single most important thing to happen to Army women since 28 May 1980 because this is really the cultural core of the organization. Every single senior Army leader is a combat arms leader and most of them support the Ranger tab. And as women, we've always been looking in from the outside, knowing that women could do this, but never been having given the chance. I wanted to do this personally 35 years ago.
PRICE: And in the worst sort of way, she asked the Army, while still a West Point cadet, to be allowed to go to Ranger School and was turned down. She petitioned the secretary of the Army to be allowed to serve in an infantry role and was turned down. Classmates say she could've gotten through Ranger School then and probably still could at age 56. Pfluke left the Army in 1995. Finally, she said, giving up on ever serving in the infantry. Now she's seeing young West Point grads make it through Ranger School, one of her Army dreams.
PFLUKE: I have been totally consumed by this for the last 123 days. I think about them every day and I pray for them every night and I have been sharing information on Facebook and on email with all the other West Point women. And it's been something that I think has totally consumed all of us.
PRICE: About 50 female West Point graduates celebrated at an informal dinner on base last night. The nine members of the class of 1980 snuck off for a low-key meeting with Griest and Haver, said Sue Fulton.
SUE FULTON: We were able to tell them how much this means to us and how much we respect and honor them for their achievements.
PRICE: They gave the two young soldiers silver dogtags, commemorating that 1980 class and their own graduation from Ranger School, linking the two groundbreaking moments on the very thing that contains a soldier's identity.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRADUATION CEREMONY)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Recognizing that I volunteer as a Ranger.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Recognizing that I volunteer as a Ranger.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Honor.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Honor.
PRICE: The military's still trying to decide what jobs will be open to women on the front lines, but for today, it's about making history. For NPR News, I'm Jay Price in Fort Benning, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.