Maj. Gen. Scott Miller’s voice held frustration late Friday afternoon during a quickly arranged media roundtable on the fourth floor of McGinnis-Wickam Hall, headquarters of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence.
The commanding general of Fort Benning has been fighting allegations for months that female soldiers were given special treatment to pass Ranger School, the most physically and mentally demanding training offered by the Army.
Hours after the third woman graduated, Miller sat front and center with Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Metheny to his right and four members of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, including the commander, Col. David Fivecoat, and Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold, on his left flank.
“There are some people who obviously have some concerns,” Miller said. “I can’t address them if they are opaque. These guys can’t address them or fix them if they are opaque.”
Among the three reporters was Susan Keating, a People magazine correspondent who has reported that multiple unnamed sources have told her there was unfair assistance given to the women.
The most telling moment came more than 50 minutes into an interview that lasted almost an hour and a half. Miller, who won the Bronze Star for Valor as Delta Force ground commander in the Battle of Mogadishu, was asked if his credibility had been damaged by the allegations.
“I have thick skin and I am a public figure, but I will tell you who doesn’t deserve this is these guys,” he said, pointing to the Ranger instructors. “They don’t deserve this. … I keep telling everybody I will put my name on anything I say or do. If they are not willing to put their name on it or come back to me. … “
That sparked an exchange between Miller and the People correspondent, prompting Keating to ask Miller, “What if one of my sources comes to me and I say, ‘You need to go tell Gen. Miller right now, you need to go knock on his door and tell him exactly what you are telling me, and give him the same specifics, dates and details that you are giving me'? What’s the push back on that? Will he get repercussions?”
“He will not get repercussions,” Miller responded.
“Will you come back and say, ‘Why did you give a go when you shouldn’t have?’ ” Keating asked the general.
“If he says he gave a go he shouldn’t have given, then he needs to report that,” Miller said.
“So, there would be repercussions for him, right?” Keating asked. “This is part of what we are up against. I have actually asked these people, why don’t you go knock on his door? He’s been in combat. He’s been around the block a few times, right? They say, ‘No. Our careers will be over. We will be ruined.’ ”
Arnold, the training brigade’s command sergeant major, seemed amused as he listened.
“I am sorry to laugh, ma’am, but I will tell you right now, no one has been threatened,” he said. “That is the funny part about this, ma’am. For a soldier to say that to you, I would have to challenge them – not that they gave the go and they are going to be in trouble. They are not going to get in trouble. My point is, we cannot have good order and discipline within a unit by allowing stuff like that to continue. I cannot allow a unit to think they cannot trust their chain of command.”
“There would not be repercussions?” Keating asked again.
“We would investigate them,” Miller said. “Quite frankly, I am at the point now where (Fivecoat) would not investigate himself, (Ranger instructors) would not investigate themselves. If I felt I was part of the allegation, I would go up and find someone above me to come down here and take a look at this. Part of that is you have to give up some of your anonymity.”
Keating has also broken two stories about the status of an inquiry that Oklahoma Republican Congressman Steve Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel with deep roots to the infantry and combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh on Sept. 15. The Ledger-Enquirer obtained the letter from Russell’s office and published it on its website.
Among the documents Russell requested were patrol grade sheets, spot reports, phase evaluation reports and sick call reports, all “with Ranger Instructors’ comments for each and every phase to include every recycled phase and class.”
Russell also requested peer evaluations and “a complete breakdown of each female candidate’s recycle history and dates for each phase.”
Miller never addressed the inquiry from Russell in the news conference.
Fivecoat, the training brigade commander, said that if there was special treatment for the women it would have surfaced in complaints from the students.
“If one of the students had received hot chow or received a go when they didn’t deserve it, the students would have brought that up,” Fivecoat said. “They are brutally honest. They got nothing to hide. The students weren’t getting anything out of this.”
Earlier in the day, four Ranger School students including Maj. Lisa Jaster, the newest female graduate, met with the media. Jaster, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver have all received the tab. Another soldier who met with reporters was 1st Lt. Seth Clickner, a human resources officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. He has spent more than 150 days in the course and been in units or companies with all three women during the training.
“I was fortunate enough to get to do every phase of Ranger School twice,” Clickner said, drawing laughter. “I was in Shaye Haver’s squad the first time, Kristen Griest’s company for two go-throughs, and Maj. Jaster’s squad and company for the remainder. I saw no special treatment of the females. And if there was, I guess I must have missed out on that. I spent six months here and I saw nothing of the sort.”
One of the allegations Keating made was that a source said a general in January told subordinates “a woman will graduate Ranger School.” The general was not named.
Miller addressed that specifically.
“There’s been a lot of implications that there is top-down pressure. What I keep saying is there wasn’t top-down pressure,” he said. “ … ‘We had an anonymous general come in and say someone will graduate.’ We are still looking for that individual, by the way. We are trying to figure out what may have been misconstrued that would lead someone to believe that. It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t (former infantry commandant) Jim Rainey, the best I can tell. I asked him if he ever went out there and inadvertently said something like that, and he said no.”
Lost in the allegations are the reputations of the three women who have passed the course, Miller said.
“Let’s not forget, there is Jaster, there is Haver and there is Griest,” Miller said. “Susan, your articles notwithstanding, I can guarantee you at the end of that pendulum it does not feel comfortable to sit there and be scrutinized for something that should be seen as a damn good accomplishment.”