Air National Guard C-130s roared over the lush, shaggy grass of the Elizabeth Drop Zone here last week, a near-steady hum overhead. Army Ranger students were a few hours into a mission known as Operation Pegasus, and needed to parachute in from a height of about 1,100 feet.
Aircrews made several passes without letting any students out due to breezy conditions deemed unsafe to jump. But eventually, the students’ green chutes dotted the early-evening Thursday sky. They floated down into the open fields of Eglin with 70 pounds of equipment, food and water before disappearing into thick brush, beginning a 10-day exercise that ends this Saturday and is the last major field event in the Army’s famously difficult Ranger School.
History is in the balance: For the first time, two female students advanced to the third and final phase of the famously exhausting course in the swamps of Florida, and are within reach of graduating. If they pass, they will become the first Ranger-qualified women in the history of the U.S. military and celebrated at an Aug. 21 graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, Ga., that is expected to draw not only family and friends, but hundreds of other well-wishers and media from across the country.