Brigadier General (Retired) Sheila A. Hellstrom posts her comments on Sisters in Arms. In 1987, Hellstrom became the first woman to be promoted to Brigadier General in the Canadian Forces (both Regular and Reserve):
I thought the DVD was very good although it almost got me off on the wrong foot when the male officer said “a soldier is a soldier” and didn’t know how many women were in the infantry. That took me back to my days in DWP when we had difficulty tracking the # of women in Mobile Command because the army was reluctant to break down the stats by gender. But then I thought of when I was inToronto and a reporter asked me how many women were working for me – I didn’t know either although I could have given him the mil/civ total numbers.
The three women whose stories were told in the film were great. In interviews they were honest and forthright about their feelings/fears/concerns. The combat engineer looked familiar – I may have met her somewhere, perhaps Bosnia… and I would love to see more of the videos the medic took in Afghanistan. I also liked the juxtaposition of archival CWAC material with modern footage.
Initially I thought the coverage of family reaction to the deployment of the daughter/wife, both going and returning, was a bit excessive but in retrospect I believe it was necessary to complete the picture. The comparison between Kim changing occupations and the BGen’s husband getting out, both for family reasons, was a nice touch.
I hope lots of people get a chance to view the film, perhaps on TVO or CBC Doc Zone. Best regards – and happy 100th IWD!
Major Eleanor Taylor is the first woman to command an infantry company in a war zone. You can read more about her in a recent article. She posts from Afghanistan:
My name is Major Eleanor Taylor and I will be returning home from Afghanistan in just over a week. I arrived here in April, and during my rotation I was employed as Charles Company Commander as part of The 1 RCR Battle Group. We were responsible for the Western-most portion of the Canadian area of responsibility and were based in Patrol Base Sperwan Ghar. This patrol base was made up largely of infantry troops, but also was home to a whole host of enablers who supported operations from both in and outside the wire. Our numbers fluctuated between 150 and 300 Canadian soldiers, depending on the types of operations we were conducting. We also shared our patrol base with two infantry companies and one artillery battery from the Afghan National Army.
During the time that we were deployed in Panjawai we conducted various types of operations. They included operations designed to support local Afghan governance and development initiatives, and operations designed to degrade the capability of the insurgents who were seeking to undermine the efforts of the Afghan government. For example, we assisted the Afghan police and army forces as they provided security during the elections. In areas where we knew the insurgents were operating we conducted large and small scale search operations in an effort to find the insurgents and their weapons and IED making material. We spent a lot of time patrolling our area speaking with locals trying to determine how we could improve the security situation. Almost everything we did was partnered with the Afghan National Army and Police forces and while this extended the amount of time required to prepare for operations, it ensured that the ISAF forces and ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) acted as a united front.
I am often asked if being a woman commander in Afghanistan served as handicap for me. I had been warned that the local men would not speak with me and would not take me seriously. I found this perception to be categorically inaccurate. While the village elders were initially surprised at my presence it was clear that they understood that I wielded power and influence. They treated me with respect and had no difficulty communicating with me. No one demanded that I wear a headdress, although I had come prepared with one in case my uncovered hair presented an obstacle. It did not. In fact, on several instances, I was told by the elders that they were happy to have me as the Commander in the area because they knew that women are compassionate and truly want to help the people. While that too is a gender bias, it was one that served me well given the fact that we were seeking to gain the trust of the population.
Throughout my career I have tried to steer away from any attention that being a woman in the infantry might bring. I have found that quiet hard work and consistent performance have been the best weapons in the silent battle against antiquated perceptions. That said, in spite of the tremendous support that I have received during my career, there have been times when I have encountered challenges that my Brothers-in-Arms have had no experience with. I believe that “Sisters in Arms” and initiatives like it assist in providing both information and encouragement to our sister warriors during those times when a slightly different perspective is necessary.
Kelly Thompson is a military logistics officer working in Kingston whose fiancé has been deployed to Afghanistan. She also happened to be our military liaison when we filmed BGen Whitecross during exercise being run in Vancouver for the Olympics last year.
Kelly shares her experiences and insights on being a military couple and coping with her loved one fighting in Afghanistan. Check out her blog http://blog.en.chatelaine.com/category/under-fire/
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