All-fe­male fight­ing force wins all-around re­spect

The mem­bers of the only all-woman squad in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Forces have been praised for their de­vo­tion to the cause, as re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Every day at 5:35 am, be­fore most peo­ple are awake, Wei Lingli, 20, and her com­rades are out of bed. They have just a few min­utes to wash and dress be­fore em­bark­ing on a 5-kilo­me­ter run which they must com­plete in less than 24 min­utes.

That’s how every train­ing day be­gins for the women of the 82 Group Army’s Spe­cial War­fare Brigade, the only all-fe­male squad in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Forces, founded in March 2013 in Bei­jing. Most of the mem­bers were born af­ter 1990, and they come from all parts of the coun­try.

“We are women, but strong and tough,” said Wei, who joined the brigade last year. Af­ter a year of train­ing, her weight has risen from 50 kilo­grams to 55. “My body shape has hardly changed, but I’ve added more mus­cle,” she said, dis­play­ing her strength by hold­ing an 18-kilo­gram bot­tle of wa­ter in each hand.

Her new-found strength is the re­sult of daily train­ing. The weight of each fe­male sol­dier’s uni­form and equip­ment — a wa­ter bot­tle, medicines, a sig­nal flare, oil and clean­ing equip­ment for firearms, ropes, grenades and maps — is about 10 kg.

When firearms and bul­lets are added, the fig­ure rises to about 15 kg. The full ensem­ble is worn dur­ing daily route marches, usu­ally of 30 to 40 km.

“Ev­ery­one in the brigade is best of the best,” said Li Shan­shan, the in­struc­tor, who joined the team when it was es­tab­lished. She re­called that last year’s in­take of 16 women — se­lected from a pool of 100 new sol­diers — ini­tially took about 17 min­utes to run 3 km.

“Af­ter train­ing for three months, more than 80 per­cent could com­plete a 3-km run in 14 min­utes,” she said. In ad­di­tion to their out­stand­ing phys­i­cal con­di­tion, more than 75 per­cent of the team are col­lege grad­u­ates.

For the brigade’s mem­bers, com­bat skills are es­sen­tial, in­clud­ing parachut­ing, scuba div­ing, rap­pelling and the use of weapons such as pis­tols, ri­fles and sub­ma­chine guns.

“Peo­ple make jokes some­time, say­ing no man would dare to marry such ‘tough’ women,” Wei said. “But I think our iron will and brave hearts are our main at­tributes; we al­ways ad­vance in the face of dif­fi­culty.”

Best choice

About six months ago, Zhang Yue, 24, cel­e­brated the fourth an­niver­sary of her ad­mis­sion to the elite brigade.

Be­fore join­ing the unit, Zhang worked as a nurse in a mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal in He­bei prov­ince. “To many peo­ple, it’s a nice job that doesn’t in­clude tough train­ing sched­ules and a harsh en­vi­ron­ment,” she said. “But it wasn’t the best choice for me. I wanted to be some­one who could fight on the bat­tle­field.”

In 2013, Zhang passed the en­try exam and was as­signed to the brigade’s first in­take. She was not the only one to talk about pain and in­jury with­out com­plaint.

Jin Xiao­hua, 23, was re­cently di­ag­nosed with three frac­tures in her right leg, but when she was sent to hos­pi­tal by her com­rades af­ter days in pain, she couldn’t re­mem­ber when or where the frac­tures oc­curred.

“It’s not a big deal. My fa­ther taught me to be strong and op­ti­mis- tic when I was a child,” she said. Un­like her peers, who mostly love pop­u­lar mu­sic, Jin’s fa­vorite songs are all about the mil­i­tary, and the de­sire to join the army was rooted in her from child­hood. “Every time I saw the na­tional flag-rais­ing cer­e­mony or a mil­i­tary re­view on TV, I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen,” she said.

Jin was a ju­nior stu­dent at the Shanxi Po­lice Col­lege, where she learned un­armed com­bat and nun­chaku mar­tial arts while wait­ing for the an­nual army en­roll­ment test. In 2015, she sus­pended her stud­ies and started the brigade’s two-year train­ing pro­gram.

Her term of ser­vice will end late next month, and she was dis­traught at not be­ing able to par­tic­i­pate in daily train­ing dur­ing her last weeks in the army. In­stead, she used crutches to move be­tween dor­mi­to­ries, where she helped to clean up and un­der­take other chores to help her com­rades.

“Our friend­ship is dif­fer­ent than in col­lege. We are like fam­ily mem­bers who share hap­pi­ness and sor­row. I will miss them all,” she said.

“My ef­forts will never end,” she said, ex­plain­ing that she will re­turn to the po­lice col­lege to com­plete her stud­ies, and, fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion, she will take an exam to en­roll as a mem­ber of a SWAT team: “My am­bi­tion is to join the UN Peace­keep­ing Force and work for jus­tice

Mil­i­tary camp is the breed­ing ground for the tenac­ity and courage of the women in the brigade. Their non­mil­i­tary lives are hid­den in their lock­ers, in which each mem­ber has a blue box to store per­sonal pos­ses­sions, from cos­met­ics to gifts from rel­a­tives and close friends.

In each 10-square-me­ter, six-per­son dor­mi­tory, the blue boxes are the sol­diers’ only source of pri­vacy. Each locker con­tains two uni­forms and a cap. The items in the small boxes are the only things that dis­tin­guish one sol­dier from an­other.

“The most re­lax­ing time is lay­ing on the bed with a face mask af­ter train­ing for a whole day,” said Zhang, who took her box from the bot­tom of her locker and showed her per­sonal pos­ses­sions: a small beauty mir­ror bear­ing the hand­carved words “Sis­ter­hood never changes” from a friend in her home­town; a dozen hand­made name tags from an­other friend at her home: and a por­ta­ble ta­ble lamp, which she uses when she writes her di­ary af­ter the 9pm lights-out call. She also had some makeup — lip­stick, face pow­der and eye shadow — but they showed few signs of hav­ing been used.

“Train­ing is tough and makeup will quickly be de­stroyed by our sweat. We just use it at week­ends for short daily breaks out­side the camp,” Zhang said. Only four peo­ple can take the break, which lasts from 8 am to 5 pm, at the same time, so we only get to leave the camp about once every two months.

The lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for leisure mean that those who take the break are al­ways in­un­dated with shop­ping re­quests. “The most pop­u­lar items are snacks and cos­met­ics,” Zhang said. “So, a shop­ping mall about 3 km away is our usual des­ti­na­tion.”

The camp is lo­cated out­side Bei­jing’s Sixth Ring Road, so a round trip to the down­town takes about four hours. Ac­cord­ing to Li, few mem­bers of the brigade have vis­ited Tian’an­men Square; a must-see des­ti­na­tion for most Chi­nese.

“Some sol­diers get a chance to see the cap­i­tal when they fin­ish their term of ser­vice and are pre­par­ing to leave. But their love of China and its peo­ple is stronger than any­one else’s,” she said.

I think our iron will and brave hearts are our main at­tributes; we al­ways ad­vance in the face of dif­fi­culty.” Wei Lingli, 20, talk­ing about the women of the 82 Group Army’s Spe­cial War­fare Brigade

Con­tact the writer at yang­wanli@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHO­TOS BY FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

Re­cruits watch as one of their peers prac­tices pullups on an ex­er­cise frame

Zhang Yue ad­justs her hel­met as she pre­pares for a train­ing ses­sion.

A sol­dier shows off a new dress to her com­rades.

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