Women in Force pilot program ran at Base Borden on Friday
CHERYL BROWNE/BARRIE EXAMINER Encouraged to drag the 75-pound dead weight by armed forces personnel, Emma Young was one of 21 women taking the Canadian Armed Forces' FORCE Test at Canadian Forces Base Borden as part of a 10-day long recruitment camp Friday.
Gina Rovak picked up the 10-kilogram sandbag and lugged it across the finish line 10 metres away.
After having already lifted the same bag up 30 times, the 48-year-old Scarborough woman was perspiring freely as she waited her turn to drag a 34-kilogram sandbag representing a body across the gymnasium floor.
"I'm doing better than I thought I would. I'm overweight and I smoke but I can still do it," Rovak said with a grin.
Rovak was one of 21 women at Canadian Forces Base Borden taking part in the Women in Force program's pilot project giving an advance look at what the Canadian Armed Forces offers women.
"It's been a rush and I'm loving it. It's something I have to do, I want to do and need to do, for myself," she said.
The women arrived on Aug. 14 for the 10-day visit, said naval Lieut. Christine Hurov, a public affairs officer.
"Today we wanted to show them about the force's fitness test. Show them it's not about push-ups and sit-ups," Hurov said.
There are four components of sandbag lifting and carrying each member of the Canadian Armed Forces must perform for their annual basic fitness test, she said.
"We're giving them an honest on-the-ground truth about the schools, learning about the different trades and what's available to them," she said.
That Rovak was approaching the half-century mark was not an issue, said Capt. Ian Grant.
He said a new recruit must pass basic training and be able to fulfill contract requirements that vary in length before they retire at age 60.
"For a paid education, the (military) contract is longer, but for a vehicle technician there's a shorter training time required. It all depends on what they want to do when they get here," he said.
Grant, who is a proud member of the army's LGTBQ community, said the armed forces is working to diversify its ranks.
"Our leadership has recognized diversity makes us stronger. Primarily, the army was male and from one particular race. That may have worked in the past but now we're trying to recruit different races and different genders," he said.
Grant said the Canadian Armed Forces has several transgender members as well.
"By having more people, more voices at the table offering their experience from their background, it offers a better perspective," he said.
The Women in Force program is open to women who live in Quebec and Ontario.
More than 300 women across Ontario applied for the program, which was whittled down to 30 applicants scheduled to attend Borden.
For various reasons nine couldn't attend the first week, but many can apply again for the three-day session in October.
Cheers and whoops echoed across the new Buell Fitness and Aquatic Centre as participants worked their way through the fitness test.
"I want to be pushed to my limit," said Suganja Sooriyakunar after finishing the sandbag repetition test.
The 21-year-old woman from Brampton said the 10-day workshop was an eye-opening experience for her.
"I just didn't know there was so many opportunities, I just thought the army was combat, that's it," Sooriyakunar said. "I've learned so much during the last few days, I'm now excited to see what I'll learn next week."
Until the visiting women leave the barracks where they've been billeted for the past week, they'll learn about employment with the Canadian military, said Lt.-Col. Kelly Hewitt, chief of staff of military personnel with the generation training group.
"We're giving the women an education about all the job opportunities at the Canadian Forces," said Hewitt. "And by all the jobs, I mean all jobs are open to women."
Recruits are paid $1,400 per month during 12-weeks of basic training, with both their food and lodgings paid for, Sgt. Andrea Downey said.
"Within two-to-three years, a fully-trained person makes about $39,000," Downey said. "Then you get salary increases and promotions, so it goes up."