The women of the 10th commando training intake get ready for their next jump.
“Anything a man can do, I can do too,” said a proud and determined Chea Kakadany, 24, as she recalled the parachute training that brought her a step closer to her dream of a career in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
One of five women and 115 men in the 10th commando training intake at the Defense Ministry’s Military Training Center in Kandal province, Kakadany said her interest in joining the military was aroused by watching fight videos as a young girl.
“That’s when I fell in love with the idea of a military career; watching a lot of fight videos inspired me to become a commando,” she said.
The 120 members of the 10th intake began their training in January 2005. It’s a grueling four-year program, but that’s to be expected for aspiring paratroopers.
Their day begins at 4:45am with a 15-kilometer run in full kit before a quick breakfast at 6:45, followed by singing the national anthem at 7. Training begins at 7:25 and there’s a 15-minute rest at 9:30, before the squad breaks for lunch at 11:30. There is more training from 1pm to 5:30pm, dinner at 6 and homework and other duties until lights out, usually at 9.
The training embraces a range of military activities and academic subjects, from weapons handling to philosophy.
But for most of the trainees, the highlight of the course is the two months they spend learning how to jump out of aircraft ... and then doing it.
Passing the parachute training, which the trainees underwent in February and March at the Brigade 911 commando school on the outskirts on Phnom Penh, is essential to finishing the course.
“I was a bit scared when I had to make my first jump,” said Kakadany, who like all members of the intake had to make five jumps from 800 meters to pass the parachute training. The training gave her the confidence she needed to take the plunge.
“I knew I did not need to worry about an accident as long as I followed the instructions of my trainers,” she said, adding that the right attitude was important.
“I decided clearly in my head that I had to do it; the previous intake did very well in the parachute training, and I knew I could do just as well,” said Kakadany, who said the pride of her achievement was shared with members of her family.
“I dream of being a strong female commando,” said Kakadany, who added that she had been treated “fairly equally” by her male colleagues.
“Women have equal rights on a military training base,” she said.
Not all members of the intake were as confident about making their first parachute jump as Kakadany.
“I was very afraid,” said 23-year-old Sim Sreynann. “I was worried that the parachute might not open,” she said.
Sreynann said that the trainees were taught to open their parachutes after they had dropped between 60 and 70 meters from the plane. “You have to be very careful,” she said. “You count off the seconds in your head ... 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005 ... then you make sure everything is working well and pull the cord,” she said.
“I felt much more confident after the second day of parachuting,” said Sreynann, who was encouraged to pursue a career in the RCAF by her father, a former military officer.
In common with the other women trainees, Sreynann has been motivated by a powerful ambition to join the military since she was young.
“I love being in the army,” she said. “I want to be a commando and to attain a high rank.”
The commitment and determination of the women trainees has clearly impressed Brigade 911 Commander, Chap Phakdey.
“They can do anything they want to do,” he said. “A female paratrooper can be as good a commando as her male counterparts,” Phakdey said.
“I am very proud of our paratroopers, the skills they have are necessary for every armed force.”
Phakdey said paratroop units offered the strategic advantage of rapid mobility in difficult terrain.
“We have no wars now, but we have to train people to be paratroopers for emergencies, such as search and rescue operations,” he said.