After nearly three months of tough written exams, physical tests, medicals and interviews, three hundred and twenty-nine female officer cadets and soldier recruits finally arrived at the Armed Forces Training Centre (AFTC) in Benguema over the weekend, ready to begin up to six-months of training before taking up their places in the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF).
ThE exercise is supported by the International Security Advisory Team (ISAT) in collaboration with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Over four-thousand applicants from across Sierra Leone applied for the limited number of places available and, successful or not, every one of them deserves the highest recognition and praise for their enthusiasm, hard-work and desire to serve as a member of their country's Armed Forces.
They have come from every part of Sierra Leone - North, South, East and West - and are now about to embark on a journey with the RSLAF in their chosen specialisations, serving wherever they are needed - securing the nation's land borders, in specialist military units such as medical, engineers or police, or on Peace Support Operations abroad.
Ahead of them lies a mentally and physically challenging six months of training. Some of them have family members who have served in the RSLAF and so will have some understanding of the tough times ahead - as well as the lifelong friendships they will make - most of them do not.
To help guide, encourage and motivate them through their training, they will be led and supported by some of the most professional male and female instructors in the RSLAF, under the command of Brigadier General Fefegulah, Commandant of the AFTC. A seasoned military veteran, he has served throughout Sierra Leone in both peacetime and conflict. He refers to the cadets and recruits who have now arrived in Benguema as his 'family' and will be keeping a watchful paternal eye on them all as they progress through their training over the next few months.
Whilst all of those now at AFTC will shortly come to appreciate some of the trials, as well as the tribulations of military service, their individual care and welfare will always remain of the utmost importance to the chain of command. As well as male instructing staff, each platoon has a number of female instructors - all of whom have been through the same training themselves - and a female 'matron' specifically charged with the welfare and wellbeing of the cadets and recruits. Additionally, and for the first time, a retired female officer, (Major Retired) Mrs Euphemia Cole - who joined the RSLAF in 1979 and who was the first female commanding officer of the RSLAF Joint Communications Unit - will be employed by the RSLAF as the Civilian Welfare Officer, providing independent welfare support and advice to both the trainees, instructors and the chain of command.
His Excellency the President, Julius Maada Bio stated in his speech on the Armed Forces Day in February the intent that female officers and soldiers should eventually form up to 25% of the RSLAF; he also recognised that ISAT had developed and sponsored this recruiting and training programme in partnership with the MoD, which will considerably further progress towards this goal.
"As with any journey, the first few steps are often the most difficult but also the most important. On this weekend - which was also appropriately marked the occasion of International Women's Day - we wish all of those now undertaking training the very best of luck in their endeavours and will look on with interest and pride at their progress over the next few months" Lt Col Matt Palmer - MoD Advisor, ISAT