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More than a year after the U.S. Department of Defense repealed a longtime ban on women serving in ground combat assignments, relatively few have been trained or assigned to these jobs in the U.S. military. Norway has moved a lot faster to break down military gender barriers. Its parliament introduced legislation in the 1980s that opened up all military roles to women. Last year, Norway became the first NATO country to introduce female conscription.
The introduction of the all-female special forces unit, Jegertroppen or “Hunter Troops”, in 2014 raised the profile of women in the Norwegian military the most. The unit was started after Norway’s Armed Forces’ Special Command saw an increased need for female special operations soldiers, especially in places like Afghanistan where male troops were forbidden from communicating with women. The exclusion of half the population was having a detrimental impact on intelligence gathering and building community relations.
Col. Frode Kristofferson, the commander of Norway’s special forces said: “When Norway deployed to Afghanistan, we saw that we needed female soldiers to take care of the women and children in the buildings that we searched”.
One of the unit’s members, 22-year-old Tonje, said the unit is proof that women can do the same job as men, even in the male-dominated world of the military. “We’re carrying the same weight in the backpack as the boys,” said Tonje. She added that the weapon, backpack and other gear she carries on long marches, weighs over 45 Kilograms.
The tasks at Terningmoen Camp, about 160 kilometer north of Oslo, include parachuting, skiing in the Arctic tundra, navigating the wilderness and fighting in urban terrain. To qualify, applicants have to run about 6.5 kilometers carrying 27 kilograms of military gear in under 52 minutes. That’s just three minutes less than their male counterparts who have to do the same thing in under 49 minutes.
Three years into the all-female program, the Norwegian military is already counting it as a success. “We have them available when we need the female soldiers in operations abroad,” Kristofferson said.
At a recent exercise, one of the female soldiers shot better than some of the men in the elite platoon, Capt. Ole Vidar, the officer leading the training program, said. He added that the female unit has also shown a stronger sense of solidarity among its members.
He added that despite some skepticism at first, the program has been an instant success with over 300 applicants in the first year alone And the entry requirements have already been raised.