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Old 19 February 2001, 15:35
Tom Hunter
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A woman's place is not in the SAS


A woman's place is not in the SAS


The Chief of Defence Staff fires a parting shot on the future of the Armed Forces

THE prospect of women serving in the SAS and in other combat roles was rejected yesterday by General Sir Charles Guthrie, the retiring Chief of Defence Staff and a former officer in the elite regiment.
Sir Charles, the Government’s top military adviser, also issued a warning that political correctness, equal opportunity for its own sake and “barmy ideas” could damage the Armed Forces’ unrivalled reputation around the world.

Speaking on the eve of his retirement, he said a report was being prepared into women’s possible future roles “in submarines, diving, infantry, the SAS, tanks and the RAF Regiment”, all now barred to them.

In his time in the SAS in the 1960s he was twice “blown up” while serving in the east Aden protectorate, once when he drove over a landmine and again when a grenade was thrown at him. Combat, he said, was frightening and dangerous and he did not believe the Services were ready for women to take on this role.

Special forces had to remain “special” and there was no question of the SAS “lowering standards”. Sir Charles, the Colonel Commandant of the SAS, disclosed that Bombardier Brad Tinnion, the SAS soldier killed during last year’s dramatic rescue of six British soldiers held hostage in Sierra Leone, was the first one out of a helicopter.

“What would have happened if it had been a girl stepping out of that helicopter, what effect would it have had (on the other soldiers)?” Sir Charles asked. Israeli Army experience was that when women combat soldiers were wounded, male soldiers stopped fighting.

Although Sir Charles, who retires on Thursday, will play no part in the decision whether to allow women to serve in a combat role in the Army, he said in an interview with The Times: “The Armed Forces represent one of this country’s great assets and we mess about with it at our peril.”

Individual rights were important but the effectiveness of the team was crucial. If those campaigning for equal opportunities in every area “don’t like it, so be it”.

Sir Charles said none of the Defence Secretaries under whom he has served — Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Portillo, George Robertson and Geoff Hoon — had put pressure on him to accept changes “when some people had come up with barmy ideas”.

However, he gave warning: “If a young leader in battle makes a courageous decision — and sometimes you have to take risks — and he takes the wrong decision and somebody is killed, does that mean his platoon can sue him? We have to be very careful about going too far down this route.”

In his time as Chief of Defence Staff, the Armed Forces have taken part in 44 different operations, including Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, flood relief in Mozambique, and Sierra Leone: too many, he believes. “We are the victims of our own success,” he said. When the United Nations wanted peacekeeping troops in a crisis, it always turned to Britain.

At the height of the Kosovo operation, 47 per cent of the Forces were engaged. Although it was now down to 26 per cent, Sir Charles said he would prefer it to be less than 20 per cent, to ensure that servicemen and women spent enough time with their families and to train.

“We have to be robust and say we can’t do everything, otherwise we’ll shake ourselves to pieces,” he said.

Sir Charles said there had been some “sorry tales” in getting new equipment, the worst being the replacement of the ageing Clansman radio. The new Bowman communications system was at least eight years behind schedule, and soldiers deployed to Kosovo complained of having radios which could be eavesdropped by the Serbs.

Looking to the future, Sir Charles gave warning against the belief that warfare would no longer have to involve soldiers on the ground and would consist solely of “silver bullets and missiles”. It would still be necessary, he insisted, “to put people in harm’s way”.

He was worried about the issue of depleted uranium weapons and the fear among Gulf and Balkans veterans that they were the cause of their illnesses. “Understandably, there is a feeling that with BSE and Gulf War syndrome we are not quite sure what we can believe but I am content that the risk to our soldiers from DU is very slight,” he said.

Sir Charles, 62, was yesterday beginning to pack up his kitbag — gathering all the possessions he has acquired over more than 40 years in the Army — including a buffalo rifle presented to him last week in the US as a farewell gift.

Despite being a former SAS officer, Sir Charles had to admit: “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this. I don’t even have a gun licence.”

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Old 23 February 2001, 18:10
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From what I saw somewhere though there was this one woman who did do the SAS selection and passed. Forgot where I saw it though...
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Old 23 February 2001, 20:08
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I think you may be refering to the 14th Intelligence Detachment (as it was called), a survielance unit in Northern Ireland. It regulary recruited women to use as undercover operators. The unit is often associated with the Regiment but the two should /most definitely/ not be confused.... there was a book written by one of the 14th Int female operators called 'One Up With The SAS' IIRC - a title designed to sell more books rather than a factual description of the content.
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Old 24 February 2001, 06:23
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Yeah that was the book I saw it on.
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Old 24 February 2001, 22:46
Lysander Six
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I read about detachment 14 in a book titled 'The Operators'- they do indeed deploy female operatives- some SAS troopers also do tours with them (not the standing SAS troop in NI)- McNab mentions this in 'Immediate Action'.
The bar to females in combat, as opposed to the close surviellance role of Det 14, seems to be mainly the reaction of male comrades to female casualties- I don't know that the death of a comrade would be any more or less affecting depending on their sex- the Israeli findings seem to bear this out. It may be that the basic human psyche will always mean that danger to female combat soldiers will be a vulnerable point in regard to motivation and morale, though this appears to be contradicted by WRENS serving aboard RN ships.
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Old 25 February 2001, 04:32
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LS, WRENS in the Navy getting pregnant is a big problem. Also, show me a female soldier capable of trooping round with 70lbs on their backs and I'd be impressed. Get them doing it for a few years without getting seriously injured and maybe they'll be in the right ballpark to have a crack at Selection. I think I'll be waiting a long time though.
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Old 4 March 2001, 06:54
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I heard there already have been women that have passed selection with the SAS. In the book Fortunes Warriors,John Davis first job was with an ex SAS women I believe.
Ya know, who is gonna expect a crazy women bodyguard doing VIP work, its also easier when doing a covert assignment involving a couple not unlike 14int to have two ppl playing a couple and both being operatives instead of one being an actor or not doing it at all.

Up here in Canuck land we are an equal opportunity army and I believe as long as the female can pass at the SAME standards as the guys then she has proven herself the same as the guys. I however am not up for equality IF the women have it a lil easier than the guys. I wish everyone on the field to be able to save my ass when the time comes - guy or girl - just as long as they do it.

[This message has been edited by Disturbance (edited 03-04-2001).]
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Old 4 March 2001, 11:02
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Thumbs up

Hi Disturbance,

I couldn't agree with you more, provided women have to pass the /same/ standards as the men. There are some interesting debates on one of the forums here (I forget which) about how standards have changed since women have been allowed into front line units (in the US forces that is).

I know there have been trials recently in the UK to see if having women in frontline combat units would work. Reports say the tests have been succesful, and with the new CDS being sympathetic to women on the front line, I'm sure it's only a matter of time until all units will accept men and women. Of course, experience in other countries has shown that standards will drop but that doesn't seem to bother the politicians........
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Old 4 March 2001, 15:49
Enfield Enfield is offline
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Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Canada
Posts: 469
Just a sidenote on women in the Canadian Army... in the Reg Force Infantry there are only a half dozen women, either because when women join Infantry doesn't appeal to them or because once they're in the decide they don't like it. So despite officially lowered standards, very few women want to serve as grunts.

First Into Action, by SBS Marine Duncan Falconer, describes several women in 14th Int. Some were successful, some were not. But surveillance is a whole different world from special forces....

I saw an article in a British paper that said that a court (forget if it was a UK or European court) had ruled that the Royal Marines could not be used for social experimentation due to their unique role and duties, referring to women being admitted.

[This message has been edited by Enfield (edited 03-04-2001).]
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Old 8 September 2001, 17:17
The Brit Git The Brit Git is offline
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Red face

I watched a program on the BBC about Wrens on a destroyer. 3 were Armourer's and were loading a Sea Dart/Wolf missile on rails about 3ft high and were struggling because of the weight. They asked for help and 2 blokes took if off them and loaded it and went away grumbling about the Wrens. The TV crew caught up with them and interviewed both about the Wren's and their abilities. They said that "Why should people be put on a Boat when they couldn't physically do the job."

I understand that this isn't a case of All women are weak etc but in that situation, having those women armourer's on that ship wasn't working and they shouldn't be there, But who would tell them that....Anyone who does risks being called a Sexist and may be disiplined. Ship's have a limited number of personel onboard and all have to earn their place.

How many other people (not women in particular) aren't fit to do their current job but won't/don't do something else?

Oh and 1000th post on this board. Congrat's

[This message has been edited by The Brit Git (edited 09-08-2001).]
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