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Award for PTI who challenged stereotypes

26 February 2015

A physical training instructor (PTI) who overcame cultural stereotypes to establish women’s physical training and integrate it with the men’s at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) is to be awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.

Staff Sergeant Kate Lord, of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, 1 Regiment Army Air Corps, deployed to Afghanistan for the third time in her Army career, this time as the sole female PTI in support of the recently established ANAOA in September 2013.

Due to delays in recruiting Afghan female instructors for her to mentor, she spent most of her early detachment mentoring young male Afghan instructors. Many of these non-commissioned officers express highly misogynistic views, some even believing women are incapable of running.


Word soon spread

Kate, aged 32, volunteered knowing she could make a huge difference as a national standard athlete, having been with the Great Britain Development squad for the 2003 junior biathlon championships, though admits to being nervous before her first session with them.

She said: “They were all eyeing me up with curiosity and asking me how fast I could run.”

They soon found out. Word soon spread among the Afghan instructors that she was a force to be reckoned with. At first, they tried to keep up with her, then they started to listen. Kate not only blew away their assumptions, she won their admiration through her infectious enthusiasm and professionalism.

"It took about a month,” she said. “Then they began to really take me seriously. The initial barrier was because they had never worked with a woman before. But we had a lot of laughs and they liked that I could take a joke and would play jokes back on them.”


Course for female PTIs

The former Thomas Hepburn Community School pupil instigated a computer database to compare test results for male cadets. She trained out of hours constantly and lent her hand to running the camp gymnasium, organising competitions and classes.

But her unique and outstanding contribution was the single-handed development of the female physical training capability at the academy. After three months she finally got to do the job she deployed to do. She ran a course for female PTIs and insisted it be integrated with the men’s. Under her guidance and encouragement, one of the women, named Fatima, was runner-up to the top student.

Kate, who now lives in Exmouth and whose Army unit is based in Yeovilton, Somerset, said: “From day one I asked, please let me integrate the male and female instructors as it would have been more difficult to do further down the line.”


Bespoke package

Next she recommended bespoke physical tests for female recruitment. Harnessing the Strength and Conditioning degree that she was completing in her own time, Kate researched and analysed Asian female body composition data, scrutinised training regimes in other regional academies and captured performance data from the women on her course.

“It was really important,” she said. The Afghan women couldn’t physically do some of the tests we are used to in the West such as press-ups, so it was vital for their confidence, but also so that we had somewhere to build from, that they had a bespoke package and my boss was happy for me to design one.”

Using these observations and conclusions, she designed a range of tests for female recruit selection and wrote the female physical training syllabus. All of this was uncharted territory in the Afghan National Army and had to be undertaken while respecting cultural aspects such as women not being able to perform sit-ups in front of men. Previously, female officer cadet training had been limited to the likes of volleyball and table tennis.


Amazing honour

Kate noticed a marked difference, both in the confidence of the women under her tutelage and in the attitude of their male counterparts towards them during her time at the ANAOA and feels justifiably proud of her achievements.

She said: “My main message was that I don’t compare myself to men I just try to be the best I can be and if they do that, then nobody can ever question them. It was such an amazing honour and the highlight of my 16 years of service. Because I am so passionate about it, it didn’t seem like work.”

And her relationship with star pupil Fatima endures. Kate added: “I gave her my watch when I left as every good PTI needs one and I still send her parcels with little items of kit to keep her going.”

Kate’s citation states: “It has been an extraordinary performance from so junior a Staff Sergeant. Highly motivated, she is relentless in pursuit of excellence: an embodiment of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy’s vision to install the spirit of example in junior officers.

“Most of all, she has belied the attitudes of a deeply conservative culture. Nobody in this mission - male or female - has done more to further the standing of women in the Afghan National Army.”


Meritorious service

The Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service recognises meritorious service during or in support of operations.

The announcement was made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 140 personnel. The awards are principally for actions on Operation HERRICK during the period October 2013 to June 2014.

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