THE WOMEN WHO KEEP US SAFE
AMID THE THREAT OF CYBER AND TERRORIST ATTACKS, CHARLOTTE WILLIAMSON SPEAKS TO FOUR WOMEN WHO SAFEGUARD OUR SECURITY
MEET FOUR WOMEN WHO SAFEGUARD OUR SECURITY
“If I’m being deployed abroad, we tell the children: ‘Mummy’s off to make the world a better place’”
LIEUTENANT COLONEL LUCY GILES, 48, is the first female commander of a college at the royal military academy sandhurst. she is married to nick, who is also in the army, and they have two children: jess, 13, and alex, nine.
My Life in The Army is 24/7. I live on campus so i can’t be slobbing around in jeans; i’m pretty much in uniform the whole time. my working day is generally 6am to 10pm, and there is usually training and sports on saturdays too.
I don’t come from a military background. I Grew up in somerset, where my father was a vet, and went to a comprehensive school. I ended up in the officer’s training corps during my time at exeter university – some friends suggested i take part in army training one weekend, and i enjoyed how much it challenged me. My parents were thrilled when
I told them i wanted to join the army FULL-TIME; I THINK IT WAS ONLY WHEN I HAD MY FIRST DEPLOYMENT THAT THE SERIOUS SIDE OF WHAT I WAS DOING KICKED IN.
AT 25, I WAS DEPLOYED TO BOSNIA WHERE I COMMANDED 72 MEN AND 110 VEHICLES. THE RESPONSIBILITY WAS HUGE. DURING THE CHRISTMAS OF 1994, TWO OF MY TROOPS WERE HELD HOSTAGE. THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO, BUT I DID TRY TO REASSURE
THE MEN’S FAMILIES AS MUCH AS I COULD. ANOTHER TIME IN BOSNIA THERE WAS A MORTAR ATTACK ON MY TROOPS – I STILL HAVE SOME OF THE SHRAPNEL. I’VE SINCE BEEN DEPLOYED TO SIERRA LEONE, EAST TIMOR, NORTHERN IRELAND, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN.
THERE HAVE BEEN MOMENTS IN MY CAREER THAT HAVE LEFT MY MOUTH DRY AND MY HEART RACING. I HAVE BEEN FORTUNATE THAT NO ONE I HAVE WORKED WITH DIRECTLY HAS LOST THEIR LIVES, BUT I HAVE BEEN
TO A LOT OF FUNERALS – ONE IS TOO MANY.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE ARMY HAS CHANGED DRAMATICALLY FROM WHEN I FIRST STARTED. AS RECENTLY AS 1990, PREGNANT WOMEN WERE AUTOMATICALLY DISCHARGED. AT SANDHURST, BETWEEN 10 AND 15 PER CENT ARE NOW WOMEN AND IN THE ARMY OVERALL, WOMAN MAKE UP NINE PER CENT. SINCE LAST YEAR, ALL MILITARY ROLES ARE OPEN TO WOMEN, INCLUDING FRONTLINE COMBAT ROLES – BUT, OF COURSE, YOU HAVE TO MEET THE RIGHT CRITERIA. A WOMAN’S BIOLOGY IS DIFFERENT – I’M ONLY 5FT 4IN, FOR INSTANCE, AND OUR HIPS AREN’T ALIGNED IN THE SAME WAY AS A MAN’S, SO IT’S HARDER FOR US TO CARRY WEIGHTS. HOWEVER, THAT CAN BE RECTIFIED WITH CORE STABILITY TRAINING.
I’VE OFTEN QUESTIONED WHETHER, AS A MOTHER, I SHOULD BE DOING THIS JOB. I’M FOREVER FEELING GUILTY THAT I’M NOT
a good enough parent – that i should be home more – but then that’s no different to the majority of working mothers. we made a family decision for jess and alex to go to boarding school, and we miss them terribly. but they love living at sandhurst, and the army is very much a part of their lives.
If i’m being deployed abroad, we tell the children: “mummy’s off to try
and make the world a better place.” We’re open and honest with them
– i think a vacuum of uncertainty just creates more worry. I don’t travel much now but i went on a six-week tour of afghanistan a few years ago. i actually found it a relief that i only had to do one thing well and not feel torn – my children were very happy, I wasn’t worrying, and professionally i felt fulfilled.
One of my greatest achievements
– as well as my children and 19-year marriage – is coming second to dame kelly holmes in a race! it was the 400 meters at an army athletics event in the mid-90s [when dame kelly was also in the army]. I still keep fit – you need to lead by example, and i can’t expect the cadets to have the discipline if i don’t.
If I have a sunday lie-in, a real treat is listening to The Archers. i also enjoy movie-and-popcorn nights with the kids.
LT COL LUCY GILES OUT ON MANOEUVRES