A girl from Guam is the first woman from the region – the Marianas and Micronesia – to graduate from the grueling challenge of the US Army Ranger School.
Captain Ayn Charfauros is the 100th woman – and the only woman in her class – to graduate from the school in Fort Benning, Georgia.
What started as something to push herself to the next level has become a chance at redemption for this University of Guam graduate. And it came with the added satisfaction that his efforts helped motivate others to overcome some of the toughest physical and mental challenges and then successfully complete Army Ranger School.
A graduation ceremony was held March 11 at Fort Benning.
Ranger School is one of the most grueling courses in the military. The eight-week assessment and selection tests soldiers physically and psychologically.
Charfauros is the daughter of George and Diana Charfauros de Malesso’.
She graduated from Guam High School and went straight to the ROTC program at UOG. She was commissioned in May 2016 and began her military career with the Medical Service Corps.
His job does not include combat, so Ranger School was not part of his long-term Army career plans. The opportunity presented itself when she returned from deployment.
“I like to challenge myself and seeing the pre-Ranger program catalyzed my decision,” she said.
She failed to go all the way on her first attempt at school.
“Coming back that second time, I was like, ‘I’ve already committed to this and I’m not a quitter,'” Charfauros said. Her mantra, “I haven’t failed until I quit,” drove her forward.
“So getting kicked out of Ranger School the first time around wasn’t a failure. The only time I would have considered it a failure was if I didn’t go back because it is me who abandons me,” she said.
Two years later, she returned and was one of 350 in her class. Among these, she said, were five or six women. By the time she graduated, the class had shrunk to about 120 people, of which she was the only woman.
She said that while she was proud to be a woman who completed the program, what she appreciated was the fact that all soldiers are held to the same standards, regardless of gender.
“After a few weeks at Ranger School, you kind of forget you’re a woman. I mixed in a lot with the guys there because everyone is working towards a common goal to complete the mission,” she said. “And also, you’re in the most broken down state of your human being, so you’re working on survival.”
She said at this level “everyone has the same needs, everyone is really hungry, everyone is really tired and everyone shares this common misery”.
“At this point, you forget to be a woman. And that (came) to me more in tune with being a team member,” she said.
For this 5-foot-tall little girl from Guam, who at one point in the course weighed 95 pounds, it wasn’t easy, but it made her success all the sweeter.
And not just for herself, but because she was also able to help motivate others.
A mountain of challenge, literally
Rucking is one of the physical challenges soldiers endure.
“To start with, I was the smallest person at the Rangers school for a long time. … And you put me next to an average 5-foot-10, 6-foot-tall, 200-pound man,” Charfauros said. .
“And I have to carry the same weight as them for the same distance.”
The mountain phase is probably one of the most demanding phases. Soldiers carry a bag of at least 75 pounds over mountainous terrain for 6 to 10 kilometers a day.
And some roles require additional supplies to be added to their ruck.
“Like I was picked to be (the radio operator) and (the squad leader) a couple of times…and the ruck was getting up to – you add a radio to it – so between 25 and 30 pounds added to that base weight,” she said.
“A lot of guys were like, ‘You know, I felt sorry for myself, and then I see you carrying that radio and you (carrying) your weight up that mountain and you do the same amount that we have…and you’re that 5ft tall little woman… so we just stopped feeling sorry for ourselves when we saw you,” she said.
“What Ranger School teaches you is how are you going to be a leader. How are you going to motivate yourself and others in the worst of times,” she said. “You find out who you really are in that moment. And you mostly learn more about yourself than anything else.”