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Women have more to offer Army, says Northern Ireland captain

By Brett Campbell

A co Antrim soldier has said women have more to offer the Army as the Sea Bangor Festival prepares to host Armed Forces Day, celebrating 100 years of women in service.

Captain McCullough (43) has served with the 152 (North Irish) Regiment for 15 years and has completed two tours of Afghanistan in addition to a UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.

She emphasised that she had found the Army to be inclusive and far from what some may view as the stereotype.

"I have always found the Armed Forces to be an inclusive environment, and so many roles have been opened up to woman over the last 20 years, but the policy needs to catch up with cultural changes," the soldier told this newspaper.

The squadron second in command of the 104 Brigade "fully supports" the biggest shake-up of the British Army in recent history, which will open close combat roles to women in 2018.

"It's a massive issue and needs to be thought through, but I feel it's something women can do," she said.

"The question is whether society can accept that women are capable."

The role of servicewomen has been at the forefront of debate since former Prime Minister David Cameron announced last year he had accepted recommendations from military chiefs that women should no longer be excluded from close combat roles.

"This is about empowering people to reach their full potential in any given environment," said Captain McCullough.

"Change has to happen, and it is happening. There will be those who oppose it, but it very much depends on your own background."

The soldier, who signed up as a reserve in 2002, said she had never held to any preconceptions about gender in the Army.

"Some of the best leaders I have worked with, including a two-star general in Cyprus, have been women," she added.

The first major barriers were broken down during the First World War, when 10,000 women from Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service - including Sister Lucy Sinton Kelly from Belfast - joined men on the front line.

When the Second World War broke out, women were immediately put to work and took their place in industry for the first time.

Commanding officer of the NIR Royal Logistic Corps, Lieutenant Colonel Chambers, said that female soldiers who served in the UDR - affectionately referred to as the Greenfinches - set the standard for the modern British Army.

"They were the first women to carry rifles in a front line role and they paved the way for where we are going," he added.

Lt Col Chambers welcomed the British Army's prominence in The Times' Top 50 Employers for Women rankings as "recognition for something we have been doing for years".

"It is true that women have a huge role in the Army and have made some of our best leaders, but in this regiment, I don't see gender - I just see soldiers," the soldier said.

The head of the Army's only reserve fuel supply regiment, which has a mandate to serve the regular Army on operations, added it was right for women to decide for themselves if they wished to be in a combat role on the front line.

Armed Forces Day, which is hosted by Ards and North Down Borough Council, will begin on Saturday, June 24, with a military parade through Bangor town centre, and will coincide with the Sea Bangor Festival.

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