LAC/W Vanessa Wallace from 382 ECSS with her dog Akyra on a patrol at Dili International Airport. The commanding officer of the Lismore-based 41st Battalion of the Royal NSW Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Ruhle, says we’re about to find out if the Australian public is ready for women to take up combat roles. AAP IMAGE.
LAC/W Vanessa Wallace from 382 ECSS with her dog Akyra on a patrol at Dili International Airport. The commanding officer of the Lismore-based 41st Battalion of the Royal NSW Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Ruhle, says we’re about to find out if the Australian public is ready for women to take up combat roles. AAP IMAGE.

Women in combat gain support

THE commanding officer of the Lismore-based 41st Battalion of the Royal NSW Regiment believes his soldiers will support the plan to allow women to serve on the front line.

Minister for Defence Stephen Smith announced this week women will be able to serve in special forces and combat roles, as long as they meet the physical entry standards.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Graham Ruhle said soldiers in the 41st Battalion had talked about the issue since attending a "cultural stand-down day" this year, in which the role of women in the Army was discussed.

"The soldiers were encouraged to engage in discussions locally about the issue and from this unit, overall there was a positive reaction," he said.

"I can say the soldiers of the 41st Battalion don't have an issue with women serving in combat roles generally."

Lt-Col Ruhle believed the plan must be implemented in a "measured" way for it to succeed.

"The fact that the minister is talking about a five-year implementation means the Army has thought this through and that's totally appropriate. It makes me feel confident we're going to succeed," he said

The 41st Battalion covers a region stretching from Tweed Heads to Taree and comprises 279 men and 21 women.

Women currently serve in supply, clerical, catering and transport roles within the battalion.

"They're restricted from infantry and this is an infantry battalion," Lt-Col Ruhle said.

Lt-Col Ruhle added the decision to allow women in combat marked a shift in Australian culture.

"If you had asked me if the Australian population was ready for this 50 years ago, I would have said No. If you ask me now, is the Australian population ready for this, well we're going to find out."



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