Ottawa, Canada | AFP |
A Canadian woman who fought insurgents in Afghanistan became the country’s first female combat officer to rise to the rank of general.
Colonel Jennie Carignan, 47, was promoted to brigadier-general (one star) and put in charge of the Canadian army’s day-to-day operations including training and deployments, the military announced on Thusday.
Other female generals have previously risen from non-combatant disciplines such as intelligence, medicine and development aid.
Carignan enlisted in 1986, three years before Canada allowed women in combat roles.
Training as a combat engineer — a role in which soldiers clear bombs and erect and destroy battlefield structures — she rose quickly through the ranks, shattering preconceptions about women warriors.
However, she was beaten to the punch by one month in becoming the first woman to lead a military combatant command by American General Lori Robinson.
Robinson made history in May, when she was appointed to lead the US Northern Command, tasked with securing North America’s aerospace and coastal waters, as well as supporting the US civil defense authorities.
US Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who praised Robinson, was quoted at the time by ABC News as saying that “in the military, a combatant command is the ultimate job. It’s the pointy tip of the spear, overseeing the people carrying the rifles and flying the aircraft.”
The United States dropped its official ban on women in combat in January 2016.
Women make up 14.8 percent of the Canadian military, and just 2.4 percent of its combat forces, according to government figures.
Carignan grew up in the mining town of Asbestos, Quebec, the daughter of a policeman and a teacher.
She served in a United Nations mission in the Golan Heights, between Syria and Israel, and in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
“She can wear a dress or a bulletproof vest,” Barbara Maisonneuve, chief fundraiser for the Royal Military College of Canada and a general’s wife, told Maclean’s magazine.
“Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan continues to be a trailblazer for women in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement.
Married with four children, Carignanhas been a pioneer in juggling motherhood and a high-level military career.
At age 27 in 1995, she was ordered to deploy to Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of the war that broke up the former Yugoslavia, but unexpectedly became pregnant.
Her bosses were supportive.
A year later, she brought her still breastfeeding son on a military training exercise, along with relatives who babysat the two-month-old while she trained.
She got another opportunity to deploy to Bosnia in 2002.
In 2009-2010, Carignan found herself in one of the world’s deadliest war zones, exchanging fire with insurgents in Afghanistan while on patrol in Kandahar province.
She also narrowly avoided a suicide bomber during the mission as well as an improvised explosive device that mangled a vehicle in her convoy.
Following in their mother’s footsteps, her eldest son Zack, 20, is in his second year at the Royal Military College of Canada and daughter Amelie is starting basic training in July.