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Women can make the grade says first female Armed Forces Minister

Published 28/01/2016

Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt adjusts her helmet before watching a live firing exercise
Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt adjusts her helmet before watching a live firing exercise

Britain's first female Armed Forces Minister insists women can make the grade - amid a review into whether both sexes should be allowed to fight on the frontline together.

Women are prevented from joining infantry battalions, armoured regiments and the Royal Marines.

But that could be about to change this year following the end of a six-month review which is overseen by the head of the Army.

During a visit to an army training unit near Brecon, mid Wales, Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt refused to be drawn on whether she was in favour of the move.

However, Ms Mordaunt, 42 - whose father was a paratrooper - championed women's role in the forces shortly after seeing two female soldiers take part in a firing exercise.

She said: "Women are already on the frontline. But clearly there are particular trades that have been closed off.

"I think we are doing something a bit different from other nations which have tended to focus on whether women can make the grade.

"Well, it's clear they can make the grade in the military across lots of different roles.

"We are looking at if you can put women in these trades, can they endure at least the average length of career.

"It's no good getting through the training course, passing all of that, if you can't actually can't have a career in the profession that you want to serve in.

"We are doing an additional piece of work looking at the physiology of women, why men and women have particular injuries and looking at what we can do to mitigate that and support them better."

Ms Mordaunt visited the Infantry Battle School, based at Dering Lines, Brecon, which is the largest military training area in Wales.

The Portsmouth North MP wore a flak jacket and camouflage helmet before witnessing a Dismounted Close Combat course in the barren Sennybridge Training Area facility - which saw students use live ammunition.

An army spokesman said: "The exercise is designed to be physically and conceptually demanding to reflect the character of modern conflict."

Among those taking part in the drill was 28-year-old sergeant Sally Stuart of the Royal Military Police.

She said: "There is a study going on and then the Army will decide whether they think it is a good idea. I've been in the Army just over 10 years and I think that what matters is your ability, not what sex you are."

However, in the past few weeks some senior British military figures have voiced their unease about allowing women to fight on the front line and calling it a "politically correct mistake".

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan, previously said women lack the "killer instinct" necessary to fight in close combat.

And last month Colonel Mike Dewar, a military historian who served in Cyprus, Borneo and Northern Ireland, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that women lack the upper body strength "to pass the stringent physical tests which the infantry require".

However, King's College's Dr Christine Cheng, a lecturer in war studies, said countries such as Canada and Australia had women in combat roles and their "ability to fight has improved".

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