Sgt. 1st. Class Janina Simmons completed U.S. Army Ranger School Friday, making her the first female, African American soldier to graduate from the course.
Simmons, 29, is based out of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and now joins the more than a dozen women who have completed the grueling 62-day training course, giving her the right to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger tab.
"I'm excited. It's surreal," Simmons tells ConnectingVets on making the milestone. "I'm humbled to be here...62 days of training and I made it the first time through."
According to ArmyTimes, approximately 34 percent of Ranger candidates recycle at least one phase within the three-phase course.
She follows in the footsteps of several women including Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelly, who was the first female, non-commissioned officer (NCO) to graduate from the school in 2018.
"I need more NCOs to get out there...I have to lead from the front. It's good to speak from experience. When you have soldiers who say 'I don't know if I can do that," I can say 'well, I did it and so can you," said Simmons.
But even with today's accomplishment, she isn't a stranger to "firsts." Simmons, a Patriot launching station enhanced operator, made history last year when she finished first in the Fort Jackson Bataan Memorial Death March qualifier.
The senior drill sergeant leader completed the 16-mile ruck march in two hours and 52 minutes all while carrying 25.8 pounds, beating her personal best time of three hours and four seconds.
In 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta along with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey lifted the ban on women in combat, officially opening all combat roles to women. While female service members have consistently served in combat situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, this decision overturned a 1994 Pentagon ruling that prevented them from serving in artillery, armor, infantry, and other front-line positions.
Removing this restriction has allowed many firsts in the following years for women both serving in combat roles and attending rigorous military schooling, including the first female Marine to graduate from Winter Mountain Leaders Course, the first women in the field artillery field, and, most recently, the first female enlisted airman to attempt Special Operations Weather Teams (SOWT) training.
With so many job options now available Simmons explains she has to "sit down and re-sort her goals" — completing Ranger school for her was "that dream."