A WOMAN officer came within two miles of being the first to complete the gruelling Parachute Regiment selection course.
Captain Eva Howard, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, stunned comrades with her toughness and determination.
And, in a rare honour, she was immediately invited to retake the course after Top Brass said she “smashed it”.
Sources said Capt Howard got closer than any other female candidate to joining the Paras — whose bravery and fighting spirit were portrayed in the star-studded 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far.
Over five days she and 73 other hopefuls faced eight challenges including having to complete a 10-mile march over rough terrain in full kit in less than an hour and 50 minutes.
All tasks were marked except for the epic “trainasium” — an assault course 55ft above ground which is either a simple pass or fail.
Capt Howard shone in all, even a 60-second boxing bout with a male rival.
But she struggled in the Log Race, in which a team of eight soldiers carry a 60kg telegraph pole over 1.9 miles of hills.
And on Tuesday she was pulled out of the Stretcher Race, where teams of 16 working four at a time carry a 70kg stretcher over five miles, after falling behind the pace with two miles to go.
Capt Howard — a keen rock climber, hiker and cyclist — is the first woman to complete Pegasus Company, or P Company, based in Catterick, North Yorks. It is widely considered the world’s toughest selection test outside Special Forces. Fifty of the soldiers passed.
A source said: “She nailed all the tests, endurance marches, assaults courses, and was just two miles short of passing the lot. Everyone was gobsmacked.
“People were saying a woman would never pass P Company, and yet she got so close.”
Women were allowed into close combat roles in 2016. Last year Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said women could now apply for any British military role, including Special Forces.
In January ITV’s three-parter The Paras: Men of War featured the selection tasks and Channel 4’s fourth series of SAS: Who Dares Wins included for the first time 12 female hopefuls.
One of the three winners was Aberdeen orthopaedic surgeon Lou McCullough, who said: “Women can be just as strong, if not stronger than men, both mentally and physically.”