Page 3 Profile: Elaine West, Air Vice-Marshal


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The Independent Online

It’s about time we celebrated “Our Girls”…

Elaine West, 51, joined the RAF in 1978 at the age of 17. She took a job as an aircraftwoman, the lowest rank. Now, after a distinguished career that has taken in bases across the world, she has been promoted to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal, becoming in the process the armed forces’ first female two-star officer in history. She described making history as a “truly unexpected bonus”.

What’s her job?

She’ll be delivering multimillion-pound infrastructure projects to support military training, improving our defence capabilities, and overseeing the drawdown of army units from Germany. According to the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, her promotion shows there are no “glass ceilings” for female officers.

Why has it taken this long?

Women make up just 9.5 per cent of our service personnel – though that proportion is almost double what it was a decade ago. Additionally, the attainment of a two-star rank has tended to depend on experience in the Combat Arms. The MoD says more women will start to achieve higher ranks as they are increasingly deployed on operations.

But they won’t have fought on the front line, will they?

The US lifted its ban on women serving in combat roles earlier this year, but frontline fighting is still out of the question for British women. However, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, said the “vast majority” of roles are open to women and encouraged people to take advantage of opportunities in the military “regardless of gender”.