Women in the Forces

A lot of people have a huge misconception about the Military. Hell, even I did long ago. It’s nothing like you see portrayed in the movies. Not everyone is in infantry. There’s so many other jobs out there. Yes, you do have your infantry soldiers, but that’s only a fraction of what you can do! A lot of people give me a strange look and ask why the heck would I want to join the Canadian Forces. Doesn’t that mean I’ll be on the front lines and killing.

No, not necessarily. If I get in as any of my 3 choices (Traffic, Supply, Avionics) I’ll be behind the scenes for the most part. Obviously if I get sent on deployment somewhere and if the base should be under attack or on high alert, then yes I’ll have to take up arms. But it’s not like I’ll constantly be in that situation.

There are so many good reasons why to join the Canadian Forces. First of all, the pay is much better. When you’ve worked retail, making minimum wage, it’s like winning the lottery. You no longer worry about your paycheque and if it’s going to be enough. And obviously the longer you serve, the better you get paid. Then to top it all off, you get full benefits for you and your family. Health, dental, the Canadian Forces will fix you up. You never have to worry about having to pay a $200+ bill at the dentist again. You need an expensive medication? No problem! You’ve been posted to a base on the other side of the country? The Canadian Forces covers the cost of moving you and your family. When you you really look at it, by joining the Canadian Forces you’re becoming part of a huge family.

I yearn for job security, which the Forces can offer me. If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know you’re disposable. The higher-ups in the company don’t really care about those on the bottom. All they care about is profits. And if you’re on the bottom, you can easily be replaced and out of a job. I hate feeling like I’m worthless. I want meaning in my life. I want a true purpose!

I understand and accept that the first few years in the Forces are going to be hard. It means being away from family for extended periods of time, but in the end it’ll be all worth it. To be doing something important, to be apart of something big will be so rewarding. To know I wont be working a dead-end job and to be doing something I can truly be proud of.

Another big misconception is that the military is for men. That only men can succeed in the Forces and only they can get the good jobs. No, not at all. The Canadian Forces actually encourages women to join, to pursue and further their careers in the Forces. It’s still a male dominate area, but women are slowly catching up. They’ve come a long way from where they first began. So I think it’s time for a bit of a history lesson!

In 1885, women began serving as nurses in the Canadian Military during the Northwest Rebellion. By 1901 a permanent Canadian Nursing Service was created, thus ensuring women could always be a part of the Canadian Military. It was during the Boer War (1898-1902) they become a permanent part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. In 1906, women are admitted to the Regular Force. During the First World War, their numbers grew with over 2800 women enlisted. Women did more than just nursing as well during WWI. Canadian women form paramilitary groups, outfit themselves in military-style uniforms, and undertake training in small arms, drill, first aid, and vehicle maintenance in case they are needed as home guards.

From 1939-1945, during WWII, approximately 5000 nurses serve in the Army, Navy, and Air Force Medical Corps. They served overseas in hospitals, casualty stations near combat zones, mobile field hospitals and in many theatres of war. However, they weren’t allowed to serve in warships, combat aircraft, or combat arms units. In 1941 the Canadian Government decided to enrol more than 45 000 women volunteers for full-time military service other than nursing. Their duties broadened during the war from traditional trades (clerks, cooks, drivers, and telephone operators) to mechanics, parachute riggers, and heavy mobile equipment drivers.

By 1970, huge changes came to the Canadian Military for women. These changes gave equal rights to women looking to enrol: standardization of enrolment criteri; equal pension benefits for women and men; opportunity for women to attend Canadian military colleges; opening of all trades and officer classifications to women; and, termination of regulations prohibiting enrolment of married women and requiring release of servicewomen upon the birth of a child.

In 1974 Major Wendy Clay, a doctor, qualifies for her pilot’s wings six years before the pilot classification is opened to all women. In 1978 Corporal Gail Toupin becomes the first female member of the SkyHawks, the Army’s skydiving demonstration team. In 1981 Second Lieutenant Inge Plug becomes the first female helicopter pilot and Lieutenant Karen McCrimmon becomes the CAF’s first female air navigator.

From 1986-1988 more changes came for women, which gave them more rights and opportunities. Women were able to be fully intergrated in Regular and Reserve Forces; the only exception being submarines. In 1988 The first serving women gunners in the Regular Force graduate from qualification 3 training and are posted to 5e Régiment d’artillerie légére (5 RALC) in Valcartier, Quebec, as part of the Combat Related Employment trials. Private Shannon Wills wins the Queens Medal for Champion Shot of the Reserve Forces at the Connaught Ranges in Ottawa.

1989 was a big year for women in the Forces. Private Heather R. Erxleben becomes Canada’s first female Regular Force infantry soldier; Lorraine Francis Orthlieb becomes the first woman to hold the rank of Commodore; and Major Dee Brasseur and Captain Jane Foster become the first women fighter pilots of a CF-18 Hornet.

The 1990’s marked huge achievements for women in the forces. In 1991 HMCS Nipigon became the first Canadian mixed-gender warship to participate in exercises with NATO’s Standing Naval Forces Atlantic. As well, Lieutenant Anne Reiffenstein (née Proctor), Lieutenant Holly Brown, and Captain Linda Shrum graduate from artillery training as the first female officers in the combat arms. In 1992 Corporal Marlene Shillingford becomes the first woman selected to join the Snowbirds team. She takes part in the 1993-94 show season as a technician. In 1993 Lieutenant (Navy) Leanne Crowe is the first woman to qualify as a clearance diving officer and is subsequently the first woman to become an Officer Commanding the Experimental Diving Unit.

In 1994 Major-General Wendy Clay becomes the first woman promoted to that rank. In 1995 Chief Warrant Officer Linda Smith is the first woman to be named Wing Chief Warrant Officer in the CAF at 17 Wing Winnipeg. In 1997 Colonel Marcia Quinn assumed command of 41 Canadian Brigade Group and Colonel Patricia Samson was appointed Canadian Forces Provost Marshall; she was later promoted to Brigadier-General.

In 1998 Lieutenant-Colonel Karen McCrimmon was appointed Commander of 429 Transport Squadron in Trenton, Ontario, becoming the first woman to command an Air Force squadron. Also that year, Chief Petty Officer Second Class Holly Kisbee became the first woman Combat Chief of a major warship.


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