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Do women have mettle to qualify for special forces?

The Pentagon has given women the go-ahead to be grunts, but will they also be joining elite special units such as Delta Force or Navy SEALs?

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he believes there are women in the military today who would meet the rigorous screening requirements for special forces.

That's no easy feat — for man or woman.

To become a Navy SEAL, for instance, the ideal candidate will swim 500 yards in nine minutes, do 90 push-ups in two minutes, 85 curl-ups in two minutes, 18 pull-ups in two minutes, and run 1.5 miles in under 10 minutes.

Marine Special Operations wannabes need to swim 300 meters in a utility shirt and trousers, tread water for 10 minutes while clothed, and hike 12 miles with a 45-pound load in under four hours.

Delta Force, which is so secretive that the Army doesn't even acknowledge its existence, recruits members of other special forces units who have already proven their physical mettle.

Then, according to the book "Inside Delta Force," it makes them complete land-navigation courses that include an 18-mile nighttime trek with a 40-pound backpack and a 40-mile march over rough terrain.

Women who've passed the Army's grueling Sapper Leader course say they're well-prepared to enter combat, and in some cases, better prepared than men. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

No problem says Kate Wilder, a retired lieutenant colonel who was the first woman to qualify for the Army's Special Forces in 1980.

"Just to get into the course, I had to pass the male advanced PT class, which was the toughest class at the time," she said. "I was in my 20s, in top condition.

"If I could do it, these young women who are so in shape today can do it," she said.

Wilder said she got into the course but was told just before graduation that she failed a field exercise. She filed a sex-discrimination complaint and a judge found she was unfairly denied qualification.

Now 61, Wilder said many of the physical screenings for the Green Berets and similar units are are tests of endurance and agility, not brute force.

She remembered trouble she had with a course of overhead bars she had to complete. "My trainer told me, 'It's not strength, it's technique," she recalled. "And one day I just got it. But there were a lot of men who couldn't master the bars.

"There is nothing today's women physically can't do and if she can't do it right away, she can be trained to do it," Wilder said.

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

View images of the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in Afghanistan

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