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SSAFA celebrates the integral role of women in the Armed Forces

On Monday 8 March, SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity wants to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 and lift women up as the changemakers of today and tomorrow.

SSAFA, the UK’s oldest tri-service, military charity, is celebrating the involvement of women in the Armed Forces and their charity for more than 136 years in the hope of inspiring more women within the military community.

The charity spoke to trail-blazing British Army Officer, Colonel Lucy Giles and inspirational 11-year-old schoolgirl, Imogen Papworth-Heidel, about the role of women in the Armed Forces and their experiences of breaking barriers in their own unique ways.

Last year, Imogen decided to do one keepy-uppie for each keyworker in the UK which equated to a staggering 7.1 million keepy-uppies. Inspired by Sir Captain Tom, she set up a fundraising page to raise money for a selection of charities that support key workers, including SSAFA.

When speaking to Colonel Lucy Giles, Imogen said:

Keyworkers are doing an incredible job fighting Covid and I just wanted to say thank you.” 

“When I reached 7.1 million keepy uppies, I actually can’t explain the feeling. I was like ‘Oh my god, seven months, I did it!’  It was something which I never planned to do a couple of years ago and I did it for charity; it was such an amazing feeling.” 

I’ve been playing football since I was near enough six and I started off in the playground with the boys and I would start off as a goal keeper – I’ve got no clue why – and I progressed from there.” 

Colonel Lucy Giles said:

It’s making me a bit emotional because I just think that’s such a beautiful thing to be doing and at your young age as well. I think it’s extremely selfless and that’s one of the things that we hold dear to us in the Armed Forces because that selfless commitment, that sense of duty…I think you’re a super inspiration.”   

Colonel Lucy Giles is the first female College Commander at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is currently President of the Army Office Selection Board – the first woman to take on this role.

When asked by Imogen what she would say to young girls and women inspired to join the Forces, Colonel Lucy replied:

I would say don’t look at what you think the Forces are about and convince yourself why you wouldn’t be good enough. I would say go out there and go for it and don’t let anybody ever tell you any different.  

“Don’t accept no, or I can’t do that, or it’s a bit too difficult. Have a go because you will never know unless you try, because I nearly didn’t join because I didn’t think I was good enough. I mean, how rubbish is that? Look at how far what I have achieved since then.” 

Colonel Lucy Giles has served in the British Army for over 25 years, including on operations in Sierra Leone, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. Lucy was awarded Defence Woman of the Year and Inspirational Awards in 2016.

When speaking about her role model, Colonel Lucy said:

My Mum and Dad allowed me to be me and allowed me to enjoy life and not everyone has that opportunity so I’m very grateful for that. But when you think of someone really hard-working, that’s pretty selfless, that cracks on with things even though things can be difficult, I would say that Her Majesty The Queen is one of the most inspirational people.”  

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has been supporting service men and women, veterans, and their families for over 136 years. For over a century, women have been officially serving in the British military, and SSAFA has witnessed the evolution of the roles available for women within the military, providing vital assistance to serving women, veterans, and their families.

SSAFA supporter, Colonel Dame Kelly Holmes, said:

“Since I was 14, I had two big dreams: I wanted to be in the Army and also to win an Olympic gold medal. Many people tried to lower my level of ambition – some on the basis of me being a woman – but I was proud to prove them wrong and achieve both of my dreams. I know I am a strong female, a soldier, and an Olympian. These points of my identity coexist and enhance each other. Nothing was ever going to hold me back and I encourage any young girl with a goal to make it happen. It is an honour to have served my country alongside so many inspirational women.”

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