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Former Empty Helmets Being Properly Filled

July 29, 2021

On occasion, I have commented on the empty helmets of UN Peacekeepers who parade around war-torn countries as observers and not peacekeepers.  Much of their behavior is understandable as countries who provide them receive a handsome compensation per head from the United Nations while the “soldiers” are paid a penurious per diem.  Therefore, if there is no connection to the country where they are sent, why risk your life for some unknown people. That situation may be changing according to a recent article in The Economist entitled Officers and Gentlewomen. A young lady by the name of Rachel Grimes served three tours of Northern Ireland as an officer in the Ulster Constabulary or fundamental police force. She noticed that her male counterparts behaved much better on patrol when she accompanied them.  

Some years later, Rachel, shown on the right below, joined the United Nations as a sergeant gender advisor in the United Nation forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Having lived through an unfortunate business experience for many years in that country, I can assure you it is a most unstable place where “empathy” is a seldom seen emotion. Rachel, whose smile is a magnet, made a very clear observation – “The last thing a Congolese woman wants to see is a man in uniform, in a place where soldiers commit a lot of rape. But a woman in uniform is different.” At one meeting with women on the edge of the Virunga National Park, the information they shared about when and where attacks might occur was far more useful than other intelligence gleaned by the UN.  As we were on the ground for years in the general area, it is most unfortunate we did not have a word with Rachel before going there as we would have stayed home and saved a lot of money.  

From 1957 to 1989, only 20 women ever served as UN peacekeepers.  On the other hand, the number of female soldiers in general has been growing.  Women represent 20% of the officers in the US Army. Moreover, in 16 countries, women can serve in combat roles that were formerly reserved for men.  The role of women in police units seems particularly valuable. Among the pioneers were 103 Indian women who were sent to Liberia as the first all-female UN police unit. Subsequently, women UN police units from Bangladesh were sent to Haiti and Congo. America fielded women Female Engagement Teams in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. As cultural taboos often preclude interaction of men with Arab families, women units could interact more freely with families.  

Women have certain advantages in working their way through the battlefield. “Being a female soldier means that you’re almost a third gender,” said Captain Lizzy Millwater, a British officer who advises the UN mission in Mali.  “You can engage the male population on patrol, but you are also then able to engage with the women and children without being seen as a threat.” Accordingly, the number of women in UN peace operations has grown considerably as shown below.  

Though, as shown below, the number of women in UN peacekeeping missions is growing, there remains a disconnect between the numbers serving in the police division versus pure military operations. On the other hand, modern armies do not rely on physical brawn alone. The military world has become far more complicated and digital than ever before. Moreover, many women are keen to rise to the occasion and prove they can perform whatever tasks they are assigned and that they can be far more adept at many of them than their compatriot male soldiers.  

Statistics are merely numbers used to make a point.  On the other hand, the image below of a woman on patrol leading two male associates would win most any show of hands that she is the choice to lead you on the field of battle. Leadership has been and will always be the secret sauce in any battlefield. Notice the Airborne patch and remember the immortal words of Hal Moore, commander of the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam, “When we enter the field of battle, my boots will be the first boots on the ground and the last to leave and we will all come home together, dead or alive.”



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