Spring is traditionally the time that many of us flock outdoors to stroll through the woods and forests that are scattered throughout Norway. Spare a thought for those women training to be part of Norway’s all-female commando unit: Jegertroppen (The Hunter Troop) Part of their training involves a 15km time trial march, through dense forest, with a 22-kilogram backpack and a heavy machine gun. Sounds tough? You have got to be if you want to be a part of this elite unit that pushes their bodies just as hard as societal expectations about women in uniform.
Norway is often touted as having one of the most gender-equal societies in the world. It has a long tradition of women being in positions of power throughout society. It should be no surprise that the Norwegian Armed Forces are also at the forefront of gender equality measures. Given the recent sexual harassment survey that has rocked the Armed Forces, the Jegertroppen is exactly the type of successful empowerment of women that shatters gender roles.
Leading NATO and needed in Afghanistan
The origins of the Jegertroppen go back to the mid-1980s. During this time, under the leadership of Norway’s first female Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norwegian parliament (Storting) decided that the recently passed Equal Opportunity Act should be applied to the military. As such, Norway became the first NATO country to allow women to serve in combat duty.
However, it took more than a decade for this all-female unit to arise. Norway’s small contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan, created an opportunity. The Norwegian military command felt that there was a dire need for a female presence for operational purposes.
In culturally conservative countries, like Afghanistan, women are often forbidden, due to cultural or religious grounds, to talk with non-related men. Female soldiers would thus be able to communicate, gather intelligence and carry out operational objectives in some scenarios.
Females were also eligible for entry into the Norwegian Special Forces Unit but none had been successful due to the high physical requirements expected. The need for an all-female special forces unit, with a different physical regime, was spearheaded by the current head of the Norwegian Armed Forces, Eirik Kristoffersen.
Secret planning for the unit began in 2013 and by June 2014 the first 317 applicants began a grueling training regime.
Gruelling training regime selects only the best
The process for candidates to enter the Jegertroppen is famously grueling. In fact, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) produced a 2016 documentary series, Jenter for Norge (Girls for Norway) following 60 girls taking part in the induction training.
For any would-be candidate, there is first a 3-week long selection process. This involves what is commonly referred to as “Hell Week” which is a series of forced marches, with little sleep or rest, meant to push candidates to their physical and mental limits.
Having passed this, new recruits then undergo a 10-month long training course. The skills learned here are needed in the field and range from parachuting, sniper lessons, urban reconnaissance to close combat fighting and winter survival skills.
Huge physical stamina is required as the ability to run 3km in less than 12 minutes, do 50 situps in less than 2 minutes, and swim 400 meters (with the first 25 meters underwater) in less than 11 minutes is mandatory for all candidates.
The culmination of this training is a 15km march, in full combat gear (including weapons), through the forests near Rena, in less than two hours and 15 minutes. The correct candidate must also have a high grade in the general theory test and the ability to problem solve quickly and work efficiently both independently and as a part of a small team.
Strong role models for now and the future
Given the recent spate of sexual harassment allegations within the Norwegian Armed Forces, the Jegertroppen should be seen as more than just a token unit. The unit has helped create strong female role models and break down gender stereotypes.
Researcher at the Norwegian Armed Forces Research Institute, Nina Rones, told NRK that the Jegertroppen gives women the opportunity to “learn the ‘masculine’ hardcore military tasks without being overtaken by men…” Hurt by recent and structural allegations of sexual misconduct, the Norwegian Armed Forces need units like the Jegertroppen to debunk popular myths that it is a service comprised of, and catered for, only men.
The creation of this all-female unit has also lead to increased competition, and thus overall quality, between the other special forces units. The Jegertroppen proves that gender is irrelevant when coming to the protection of Norway. The positive impact that the Jegertroppen will have on Norwegian society, and gender roles, will no doubt be seen over the coming years.
The women in this unit have not only pushed their bodies to the limit but have also pushed Norwegian societal expectations of gender roles to the limit too. The individual women of the unit are proving to themselves, their male colleagues, the Armed Forces, and broader Norwegian society in general that when it comes to protecting and defending Norway they have just as much steely grit, mental toughness, dogged perseverance, superhuman strength and skill as their male counterparts.
More information on the application process for the Jegertroppen can be found here.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.
Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews
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