It’s a spring day in eastern Norway, and these female soldiers are learning how to fight their way out of an ambush. They’re part of the Hunter Troop. The world’s first all female Special Forces training program. Ellen’s 19. She’s one of just 11 who passed the test this year. Their identities are protected because they may be required to work undercover in the future.
“I wanted a challenge. I wanted to use my body and my mind. It’s known for discipline, and I like that kind of stuff.”
In Afghanistan, the military realized they needed female soldiers who could interact with women and children. Now in its third year, the program has already produced some formidable recruits.
“This is the toughest women uh soldiers in Norway. They carry their own weight in backpacks and equipment, and no sleep for 48 hours, marching maybe 30 kilometers, so uh they are pretty tough.”
The women spend half their time training alongside male paratroopers, and Ellen says this feeds a healthy rivalry.
“Maybe there is a competition between us, but at least it is a very good one. And it is also a competition between the females.”
Norway first allowed women to serve in combat more than 30 years ago. It was ahead of most other western militaries. The United States and Britain have only recently followed suit. But Norway’s military is still dominated by men and some of them remain skeptical of the new program. 19-year-old Jannicke says their fears are unfounded.
“Maybe we can’t always drag the men out if they are hurt, but if we are taking the uh same test as the men then they shouldn’t have any issues with us.”
No women have yet been deployed with the Special Forces, but their male counterparts are currently in Jordan as part of the fight against so called Islamic State. I asked Jannicke what it would be like to do this for real.
“We live in peace and it’s a hard thing to image what it would be like to be sent to war, but if I had to fight I would do it for my country.”
The recruits might have one eye on future combat, but for now their main focus is on getting through the next 6 months of training.
Kevin Ponniah, BBC News, Elverum, Norway