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Ten years ago the EU's top court cleared the way for female Bundeswehr soldiers to be armed. One of those women is Stefanie Linsener whose time with the Bundeswehr has included a four-month tour in Afghanistan.
Stefanie Linsener has never met Tanja Kreil. But Linsener, a soldier in the Bundeswehr, is grateful for Kreil's fight for women like her. In 2000 Kreil won an amendment to Germany's constitution from the Court of Justice of the European Union allowing women to take part in Bundeswehr's armed services. Up until that point they had been limited to working in the medical service or the military band. Without Tanja Kreil, there never would have been Bundeswehr soldier Stefanie Linsener.
One year after the January 11, 2000 ruling, the 18-year-old Linsener joined the Bundeswehr and became one of the first women trained to use weapons.
"My father was really proud of me," she says. "My mother had some misgivings, but she is also proud of me, of course, that I did it."
Diving into an unknown world
At first Linsener had to get used to the drills and the tone her superiors use when speaking to her. And she found her uniform practical but rather unfashionable "for a woman who pays attention to herself." Linsener has a well-kept appearance and she wears jewelry when she's working in her office.
Linsener likes to laugh. But when she, six other women and 60 male recruits had to crawl through the mud and dig out a position with a 30-kilogram (66-pound) pack on her back and a 12-kilogram machine gun, she wasn't laughing.
Sometimes she wondered what the point of the exercises was, but through them she learned what her mental and physical limits were. And she found the motivation to keep going. "I said to myself, 'shut your eyes and get through it. You're doing this now,'" she recounts. "I think it's true that women are a little bit more ambitious and have more willpower. At least I did."
Major Juergen Fischer can only confirm Linsener's observations. It's been his experience, he said, that the female soldiers inspire the male recruits. It's only a matter of time, he says, before a woman is promoted to major or lieutenant colonel.
"Women and men are treated equally, including with their salaries," Fischer says. However, unlike men, women cannot be required to participate in the armed services. Thus there is no conscription for female soldiers while German men are still required to serve in the Bundeswehr or complete community service.
Deployment a part of the job
Linsener can assemble her gun while blindfolded. She knows that it's a device that can kill but that's part of being in the army, she says. Another part of being in the army for Linsener was a four-month deployment in Afghanistan.
She and her fellow soldiers worked 13 to 14 hours a day in Afghanistan for four months without a day off. Spending every day armed and in a flak vest and only seeing a country from behind the safety glass in her tank taught Linsener to appreciate her life in Germany.
Female soldiers do find it difficult to gain recognition in a male-dominated country like Afghanistan, where women are hardly seen in public, she says. When she once naively left the camp with her hair loose and uncovered, stones were thrown at her. "This is like a woman in Germany running around naked in the street," she says she was later told."
Helmet, combat boots and camouflage ready to go
Of those serving in the armed forces, about 17,000 or nine percent are women. Linsener was one those troops for nine years. Now she has another two years of office work responding to press inquiries as Fischer's assistant.
Linsener could be headed back to Afghanistan at any moment. Her deployment uniform is in her office locker, ready to go. An enlisted soldier like Linsener gets two years of paid career training before she leaves the army. Studying media design interests her, though a switch to the customs authorities seems like a good move too. She could be trained to work with the inspection dogs.
Though she's not certain what her next step will be, after what she's been through, Linsener is confident that she'll be able to rise to the challenge again.
Author: Karin Jaeger/hf
Editor: Chuck Penfold