The controversy, debate and issue of incorporating women in the American infantry seems to be effectively put to rest by the experiences of mixing genders at the United States Army’s sapper school.

Sapper is a military term that refers to small teams of combat engineers who are responsible for supporting the front-line infantry troops by clearing mines, patrolling, demolition and other warfare engineering tasks. Since 1999, 55 of the 147 graduates of the Army’s physically difficult and psychologically draining Sapper Leader Course in the Land of the Ozarks in central Missouri have been women including Marine Captain Kathryn Neff who graduated Number 1 among her class in 2012.

The water was a great time. It’s an awesome team-building exercise…so even though it was challenging we were having a good time,” recalled Neff, a Naval Academy graduate. “We were tired, hungry and stressed, but if you really want it you still want to be there. I really found out I have what it takes to be in charge and make a mission happen. It helped me to think clearly under pressure when I was exhausted.

Surprisingly to some, the women’s graduation rate of the grueling 28-day course that taxes all candidates with cold-water swims, IRB paddling, heavy lifting, running while carrying boats, and a variety of combat engineering-specific tasks from minefield clearing to demolition techniques is approximately the same as men.

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