Thiepval officer happy to blaze trail for women

One of the first female infantry officers in the British Army has spoken of her pride at being considered in the same bracket as trail blazers.

By Rebecca Black, PA
Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 2:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 7:29 am
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of Second Lieutenant Emily Smith (right), with some of the first women infantry soldiers and officers taking part in Exercise Olive Grove in Jordan, working alongside the Jordanian Armed Forces. Women could not serve in the British Army's infantry in close combat roles until December 2018.
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of Second Lieutenant Emily Smith (right), with some of the first women infantry soldiers and officers taking part in Exercise Olive Grove in Jordan, working alongside the Jordanian Armed Forces. Women could not serve in the British Army's infantry in close combat roles until December 2018.

Lisburn-based Second Lieutenant Emily Smith, 26, from Somerset, is the third female officer in the UK’s largest infantry regiment, The Rifles.

Then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced in 2018 that for the first time women would be allowed to apply for all roles in the Army, including close combat roles.

Ms Smith said she had wanted to join the Army from childhood. She went on to prove herself as an athlete, winning a scholarship to Eastern Michigan University, and working in the energy sector before entering Sandhurst in September 2020.

She serves with 2 Rifles, who are based at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn, and is currently on Exercise Olive Grove in Jordan.

“I can’t even remember the first time that I wanted to be in the Army. My mum has a story of the Army visiting our school and me coming back and saying, ‘I’ve just had the best day of my life’ and my twin sister saying she’d had the worst day of her life,” she told the PA news agency.

She is thought to have been the 10th woman to have gone through the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, Wales.

“I am really really proud even to be in that bracket, breaking the stigma. Once you have had one woman go through, everyone is a little more used to it. My experience at Brecon was great. I didn’t have any issues with being female. I think that shows we are making huge progress in the right direction and it is becoming more of the norm,” she said.

“There is a good group of girls who keep in touch and support each other which is nice, there are people to talk to.

“I’m the third Rifles officer. Natalie Waddington and Augusta Kato went through before me and they were both amazingly supportive, and both strong women. To be in the same bracket as them makes me very proud.”

She described having received strong support from the Rifles.

“If you do the same job they don’t really care where you come from or who you are, I think that was one of the reasons why I was so comfortable with choosing the Rifles, they made me feel very comfortable from the start,” she said.

Exercise Olive Grove has seen 2 Rifles training with the Jordanian Armed Forces, including their female soldiers.

“It’s an interesting one because not only are you dealing with being women but also the Jordanian way of life,” Ms Smith said.

“To be a part of this and see what the Jordanian women are doing is brilliant. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be in the British Army where people are supportive.”

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