Scotland

Scots Army unit begins female front line recruitment

Female British soldiers in Afghanistan Image copyright MOD

The Army's newest regiment, the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, has become the UK's first to offer front line combat roles to women.

From November, the Edinburgh-based unit will invite both male and female recruits to try out for front line positions.

It comes after the ban on women serving in close combat was lifted in July.

The change means women can now serve in front line roles in the armoured corps, cavalry and infantry.

The lifting of the ban followed a government review, which focused on whether women were able to meet the physical demands of roles such as carrying large loads on long marches.

However, the Army's own research suggests fewer than 5% of its 7,000 women would pass the current infantry fitness test.

The basic fitness test for the infantry involves recruits completing an eight-mile march in under two hours while carrying a backpack weighing 55lbs (25kg).

'Physically different'

There is also an advanced fitness test of marching two miles carrying 20kg in 18 minutes, and a further two-part test of 20 miles carrying 25kg in five hours, followed by 25kg over 25 miles in six hours and 15 minutes the following day.

Among critics of the decision to admit women to front line roles is Major Judith Webb, who was the first woman to lead an all-male field force unit.

She told BBC Scotland: "We are physically different. Why isn't Andy Murray playing Serena Williams in open competition at Wimbledon?

"She'd probably give him a good run for his money, but the point about it is that what's wrong with accepting that we're different? I just feel the physical demands of infantry soldiering are not for women."

However, The Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry's commanding officer, Lt Col James Campbell-Barnard, told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that anyone who was able to meet the Army's standard would have the opportunity to serve on the front line.

Image copyright ALISON BASKERVILLE

He said: "This is the last cog in the wheel in terms of opening all roles up to all parts of society and we want to maximise the talent within society and that goes for both males and females."

He added: "They've proved their worth in combat over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan - they've been right up at the front line.

"We're convinced they can do the roles. We're not going to lower any standards at all so they have to meet the same standards that their male counterparts do, but this is all about maximising the talent they have to offer."

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