Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tales of women in the Army: Celebrating International Women’s Day

FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City----The existence of distinguished female soldiers in the male-dominated ranks of the  Philippine Army is a testament that women can also shine.

Brigadier General Ramona Go and Captain Concepcion Reaño are among the thousands of female soldiers in the Army who made their mark in a male-dominated organization. Both women have interesting tales about their experiences in the Army.

When she embraced the noble profession of arms decades ago, Go had proven that gender transcends expectations. Her first major accomplishment was hurdling the rigid military training as a cadet of the  Officer Candidate Course at the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps School (WRACS) in 1981.

When she got the first feather on her cap upon graduation, there was no looking back. She readily accepted the challenges in the Army when she was called to active duty  on January 19, 1982. 

Go said that she had made valuable contributions to the organization in every position of responsibility that was given to her. She became the first ever female officer to be designated as a Battalion Commander, leading hundreds of soldiers, majority of whom are men.

“I never felt isolated in the military bureaucracy because I was given tasks where I was very effective. In the Army, women are employed according to their capabilities,” she said. 

To 'survive the cut' in the military, Go said that she used subtle energy with big impact.

"I do things my own way without my male counterparts being threatened,” added Go who broke broke the glass ceiling when she won her first star as the first woman General of the Army in 2011, taking  her oath before President Benigno S Aquino III.

As a General, Go has assumed positions of major responsibilities. She is the current Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (AJ1) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Her previous assignment was being the Adjutant General, AFP.  

In her 29 years in the military service, she was recognized with various awards and commendations, the most significant of which, she said, is the Ulirang Ina Award given to her in 2002.

Woman in combat

Graduating in the Top 10 of her class in 2001 at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Captain Concepcion G Reaño went through the rigors of military life, engaging not only in staff and office duties but in combat as well.

“I used to think that being in the Army means going to war and staying in the mountains to hunt for insurgents. My first assignments were actually more of desk jobs where I performed my duties in support to my unit's mission," said Reaño who had served as a junior staff officer of the Army's 7th Infantry Division in Nueva Ecija before assuming command of the Military Intelligence Company of the same infantry division. 

She was  a First Lieutenant when she experienced her baptism of fire  in an intense firefight with a band of communist rebels in Central Luzon, where she found herself in the midst of volley of fires with her soldiers belonging to the 56th Infantry Battalion.

"I sustained a gunshot wound in that memorable firefight where we neutralized some rebels and confiscated several high-powered firearms  from them. I have shown to my soldiers that a female soldier can fight alongside men and make a difference," said Reano who received the third highest combat award, the Gold Cross Medal, for acts of gallantry in that particular encounter.

Despite her own on-hand combat experiences , Reaño  is hopeful  that lasting peace can be achieved soon through the help of all stakeholders.

“We have been fighting this war for several decades now, causing irreparable damage to life and property. I know that the solution to the insurgency problem could not be addressed by military solution alone, and the military is ready to support the civilian agencies which must be in the forefront in our government's efforts to end the fighting,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of winning the people's hearts and minds, as a factor in ending the bloody conflict that almost claimed her life.

“The bigger battlefield is in the minds of the people supporting and sympathizing with the communist terrorists. We must win the peace for the people,” added Reaño, a new mother to a 4-month old baby boy.

Married to a  fellow Army officer, Captain Mario Bautista, she is facing the challenge of balancing her time for her family and her military service. She is currently performing another daunting task of training cadets as a junior staff officer of the Department of Ground Warfare in the Philippine Military Academy, her alma mater.

Equal opportunities

On April 1993, the first batch of female cadets was accepted by the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) pursuant to Republic Act 7192 granting women in the Philippines equal access to military schools.

Leah Lorenzo-Santiago was among the first female cadets who graduated as Summa Cum Laude and 3rd place in the roster of the  Kalasag-Lahi Class of 1997.  

She was also the first female company commander of an Infantry unit assigned in the frontlines in Lanao del Sur. She is also a recipient of the Gold Cross Medal for her acts of heroism in combat against separatist rebels.

 Gradually, women in the military like Go, Reano and Santiago, are making their mark in the organization. 

When asked about her insights on women in the military, Reaño said, “Females in uniform may look soft on the outside, but within, they can be as tough as men are. For every inch of effort that men give for the military organization, the females have to give twice as much in order to keep pace. Luckily, women have found their own space in this organization.”

Go, on the other hand, said that the gate has already been opened for the new generation of female soldiers.

“The next generation will be able to do more and become better because they have all the time to prepare,” said Go.  

She also advised her fellow female soldiers and the younger ones to continue to hone their skills and never stop learning.

“In doing things, be emotionally balanced, because if you are not, you will not get what you want. If there is lightness in your heart, work is not work anymore because you are happy doing it,” Go further added.

Gender and Development in the Army

In compliance with the government’s program on Gender and Development, the Philippine Army initiated relevant undertakings to make the organization gender responsive.

In October 2010, the Army created the GAD Focal Point Committee and GAD/Female Affairs Section under the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel (G1), PA.

The Army also conducted GAD Orientation seminars in order to increase the organization’s awareness and level of appreciation on GAD, especially on promoting gender responsiveness within the Army.

At present, there are 1,621 female soldiers in the Philippine Army, 417 of whom are officers; 61 are from the technical services which include doctors and nurses; 131 are from the Women Auxiliary Corps; and 1,012 are enlisted women. Meanwhile, there are also 1,162 female civilian employees.

The military profession is unique as compared to other fields. To maintain the dignity and good image of the organization, the AFP requires high degree of discipline, integrity and professionalism.

Female soldiers are required to maintain conservative hairstyles. Fingernails shall not exceed 0.6 cm (measured from the fingertip) and shall be kept clean. Nail polish may be used but colors shall be conservative and complement the skin tone. Cosmetics shall also be applied, and jewelry used, conservatively.

As the whole world celebrates International Women’s Day, the Philippine Army takes pride in all the female soldiers who have exemplified true service to the country and the people. 

They are soldier’s first, wife and mother second, and the rest follows.

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