Five female soldiers have passed the pre-Ranger course at Fort Benning, Ga., making them the first women who will attend U.S. Army Ranger School this spring.

The five females successfully completed the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, Jan. 30 alongside 53 males at the Army National Guard's Warrior Training Center at Benning.

The first integrated RTAC class began with 122 students: 26 women and 96 men.

"This first iteration of an integrated RTAC has provided significant lessons-learned as we conduct a deliberate and professional way forward to the integrated assessment in April," Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, said in a recent press release.

Three other RTAC classes will be held prior to the Ranger Course Assessment, which begins April 20. The final three RTAC courses with male and female students will be conducted Feb. 6-21, March 6-21 and April 3-18.

This historic pilot program and assessment comes amid increasing demand in recent years to open up to women all military specialties, including infantry. Army leadership is open to the idea, but insists there will be no lowering of standards.

The effort is the result of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's January 2013 directive that all services open combat-arms roles to women that so far have been reserved for men. The services have until 2016 to make this happen.

Ranger School is a punishing ordeal designed to push combat leaders, both officers and sergeants, to their mental and physical limits. About half of all candidates fail to earn the coveted, gold and black Ranger tab.

RTAC was designated a pre-requisite for all women who wish to be part of the Ranger Course Assessment. The course is designed to improve the combat arms functional skills of officer and enlisted volunteers. It assesses eligible Army active duty, National Guard and foreign military soldiers on their ability to meet the challenges of Ranger School.

How female students will fare remains to be seen, but past studies have indicated they are likely more often to sustain injuries associated with combat training and combat than their male counterparts.

Historically, more than half of the soldiers who complete RTAC will successfully complete Ranger School, according to the release.

RTAC instructors were "impressed with the level of physical fitness and dedication of the majority of female volunteers," Lt. Col. Edmund "Beau" Riely, commander of ARNG Warrior Training Center, said in the release.

The two-week long RTAC consists of two phases. The first phase mirrors the assessment phase at Ranger School and is designed to assess a soldier's physical and mental abilities. During this phase, a student conducts a PT test, a swim test, land navigation, and a 6-mile foot march.

The second phase of RTAC is a field training exercise. It's designed to train soldiers on troop-leading procedures and patrolling, skills which will be used extensively during Ranger School.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com