Military studying ‘hyperfit’ women who pass its toughest physical, mental courses

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In this April 23, 2019 photo, research scientist Leila Walker, left, is assisted by nutritional physiologist Holly McClung, center, as they demonstrate equipment designed to evaluate fitness levels in female soldiers, not shown, who have joined elite fighting units such the Navy Seals, at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, in Natick, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

(FOX NEWS) – Who are the “hyperfit” women of the military, capable of its most arduous physical and mental courses, and what makes them so competitive?

Army medical researchers have aimed to uncover answers in a just-launched voluntary study.

During early debate on the move to open all combat jobs to women, military leaders raised questions about whether women were up to the jobs or if putting them on the front lines would make units less capable. The Marine Corps sought an exemption to keep some combat jobs closed for precisely that reason, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter overruled it.

Women, however, have increasingly made it through the nine-week Army Ranger course, and the numbers of those trying out for other special operations jobs are slowly inching up. The courses have encompassed a number of phases and have run from about nine weeks to a year or two for the most elite commando jobs.

They have involved a wide array of grueling physical fitness tests, combat water survival, day and night land navigation, long road marches carrying heavy packs, extended patrols through various climates and extensive mental, psychological and leadership testing.

In the nearly four years since the Pentagon announced it was opening all combat jobs to women, at least 30 have earned the Army Ranger tab, two have graduated Marine infantry school and three have passed the grueling initial assessment phase for Green Beret training.

“We’re really interested in those elite women that are the first to make it through physically demanding training,” said Holly McClung, a nutritional physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Massachusetts. “The real point of the study is to characterize this unique cohort of women that has made it through these traditionally male trainings.”

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