Pictured: Ella Close and Reservist colleague.
Opinion

Comment: An Insight From A Female Army Reservist

Ever wondered what it's like to join the Army Reserves as a woman? Here's your chance to find out

Pictured: Ella Close and Reservist colleague.

Ella Smith, 22 joined the 3rd Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (3 PWRR) in 2014. She trained as a Medic in the Reserves, alongside her college studies in Print and Journalism before leaving the Military with a knee injury in 2016. Here is her story:

When I joined the military, I was 17 years old. It was a spur of the moment idea, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with the recruitment centre and figuring out which regiment I would be joining the following Wednesday.

Luckily, I have a family history of working men in the military. My Grandad was in the Royal Engineers, whilst my other Grandad was part of MI5. So, the process wasn’t as daunting. But don’t fear, if you don’t have a connection to the military, then this article will give you a small insight into what to expect when you join the army reserves as a young female recruit.

Being the tender age of 17, my career aspirations was to travel and join a community I would be proud of, and joining the Reserves allowed me to do that, whilst also continuing my studies.

There are challenges when joining the Army Reserves, such as balancing your studies and committing to be a soldier. Yet, what didn’t stumble across my mind, was that of gender.   

Would my gender and the stereotypes around the British Army cause a hindrance to my progress as a female reservist?

To answer simply, it didn’t. What did, was the lack of infantry roles women could take part in when I joined. But fortunately for you, that now isn’t a problem.

I have accumulated a list of What I Wish I Knew Before Joining the Army Reserves as a Young Woman, to shed a bright light on the realities of being a young woman in a male dominated environment.

Reservists train alongside their regular counterparts. Credit: Sgt Si Longworth, Crown Copyright
Soldiers on exercise. Credit: Sgt Si Longworth, Crown Copyright

It May Be Intimidating at First, But Give It Time, It Will Settle:

When I rocked up to my first day at the barracks, I felt extremely intimidated from the get-go. It wasn’t an environment I was familiar with, and at this point, I had never been exposed to military life first-hand. Sure, most of the men in my family are part of the Armed Forces, but you never really know what it’s going to be like until you’re there.

I was given a tour by my former Lance Corporal (LCpl) and was straight away put into a class about concealment, or something of the likes. If there is any advice I can give at this point, maybe keep it hush about your undying love for Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan or how or how Major Dick Winters was jaw-droppingly portrayed by Damian Lewis in the American Drama Band of Brothers, or even how you enjoyed every 134 minutes of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. P.s how tense was Kajaki?

Irrespective of this, as long as you keep in mind that yes, I am a woman. You are there for your skillset, not what genitalia you have.

1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshire’s) (1 PWRR) installing an infantry foot bridge. Credit: Cpl Wes Calder, Crown Copyright
1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshire’s) (1 PWRR) installing an infantry foot bridge. Credit: Cpl Wes Calder, Crown Copyright

You Are Treated Differently, But Not in Ways That You’d Think:

There were many times out of my two years in the Reserves, where myself and the female recruits would be treated, shall we say, indifferent to our male counterparts. What stood out to me the most, was how we were treated on exercise.

I was asked to sleep in a separate room away from the men in the barracks. I didn’t query it as I was under the assumption this was common practice for women, whether that’s for safety reasons, convenience reasons or whether the men didn’t want women in the main hall with them. Regardless, it created an instant divide, but oddly enough – some of the men weren’t happy about this type of “special treatment” either.

There was also occasions in which the women needed to be measured for their kit. We (as a unit) was sat in a classroom and one by one would go up to be measured up by the PTI or LCpl. When it was my time to be called up for measurement, low and behold, I was asked to be moved outside the classroom where another female could measure me. But I have a question, what would have happened if there wasn’t another woman to do such a task? Would I not have been measured for my kit?

What seemed to be missing was communication, and I regret not speaking up and asking why? Why do we need to leave the room to be measured for kit? Why do we need to be segregated into a different classroom to sleep whilst the men do all the work? My thought process what that we have every right to be there, as much as they do. 

Women in the military have to carry the same kit as men. Credit: Georgina Coupe, Crown Copyright
Women in the military have to carry the same kit as men. Credit: Georgina Coupe, Crown Copyright

If you’re not comfortable with this within your own experience, then do speak up and say that you aren’t. I found myself losing morale when night dawned, so do what you can to avoid this if possible.

You may be under the assumption that women are treated as if they are fragile beings, but that is not the case. Yes, I will admit from first-hand, there are obvious cases where women are put into the bracket of any synonym to do with delicate. But as times change so does the military, and that is something that should be commended.

Reflecting back, I remember when my unit and I were competing in a 1.5-mile run finished with a 3-mile tab. The PTI’s were screaming at both the men and women in the group. As stated in the British Army’s fitness guide, men and women must live up to almost the same fitness expectations, and the PTI’s make that known.

Soldiers treat simulated casualty. Credit: Sgt Rupert Frere, Crown Copyright
Soldiers treat simulated casualty. Credit: Sgt Rupert Frere, Crown Copyright

You May Be Awkwardly Briefed on What to Do If You Get Your Period Whilst on Exercise:

If there’s one thing male colour sergeants should not brief you about, it’s that of your period. Although condescending, it did make for a humorous encounter. But don’t be alarmed, grin and bear the agonising talk of where to find the facilities and what to do if you haven’t got a tampon or equivalent on you, it is over within 160 seconds and you can go back to worrying about how luminescent your orange ration pack pasta is.

You Are Asked Frequently Whether You Need Help Carrying Your Kit:

This may happen to you often, as it did I – but 99% of this is just respect. You yourself know you do not need help carrying your 50kg Bergan and 20kg sand bags, even though each drip of sweat may be screaming for it.

Regardless of Your Gender, You Are Still United as One:

When it comes down to it, being a young woman in the British Army is not a hindrance. Though there may be stereotypes and assumptions, we are there for the same reason as the men. Because we want to be, and because we can. If you are starting out your career in the Armed Forces and fear being a young woman may cause you an issue, then look to the likes of these influential women who have proved females have as much right to be there as their male counterparts.

Major Lauren Edwards, a combat engineer whom lead 150 marines and vehicles during the invasion of Iraq. Lieutenant-general Patricia Horoho, the first female physician to take the Army Surgeon General role. Or Army Special Elizabeth Wasil, who suffered severe injuries in Iraq, and went on to competing in the U.S Paralympics.

History provides living proof the strength women have held throughout the years. Why not make yourself part of that running list?