23-year old Jilda Tsurtsumia is the first cadet girl that will continue studying at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in the United Kingdom. Her selection as by some British soldiers came as a very rude shock to her; she did not expect it at all. In this interview, we sat together to discuss how this profession rarely suits her as a woman and the prospects that lies in this career path for young military men and women.
What triggered your decision to join the military and what was the reaction and attitude of your family, friends and acquaintances towards your decision?
My parents were a major contributing factor to this choice I made. My life has been greatly influenced and inspired by most of the people around me, but none holds as much influence in my life as my father Jambul Tsurtsumia. He was also in the military until he died in 1993 during the war between Russia and Georgia, his values and principles serve till date as an example for me, but they would clearly not suffice if it were not for the additional principles and values instilled in me by my mother. The choice I made was difficult for her to take having lost her husband in the military, but I could not just sit with my arms folded, when 20% of your country is occupied, you want to be there, when you are most needed. As for the attitude of my friends and relatives, it should be on note, that I have always had great support from my friends, as well as the rest of my family. None of them was surprised by my decision but I must say they, were skeptical about my future, but now they all feel less bothered.
How do you assess the past four years you have been at the National Defense Academy?
Studying at the academy is a tough endeavor, because our course was second intake, and in terms of girls, I was the first intake, hence I was made to go through all the complexities related to the newly created system. As you know, Georgian armed forces are just 23 years old and in such a short period, especially after the crisis of the 90s, it is difficult to establish a military institution. The system has however evolved, during our studies, so we were the first stirrings who met all these difficulties, but when you have a clear understanding of your own work, for which you sacrifice certain things, it is no longer a problem and this is just another step toward the right development. Especially when you have the honor to carry the title of Junker.
What are the specifics of the study?
The Academy has a special structure, which makes it different from other high schools, to be clearer on specifics, we have training battalions, which in turn runs 4-year bachelor’s degree programs, and essentially, that is what determines the course of the post. Juniors have to obey the seniors, although even as a junior, you can occupy some senior positions, but that would be greatly determined by your Junker ranking. The highest rank attainable is the rank of Junker battalion commander. During these last four years, I had been a Platoon commander, a Battalion Commander and Deputy Commander. No other woman has ever achieved such feats nor attained such position. Moreover, many of the male soldiers could not really attain these positions, because another set of persons are usually appointed to occupy these positions only once a year, and therefore not everyone is given the opportunity to be appointed at the post.
How did you enroll at the British Royal Military Academy?
In the academy I studied back home in Georgia, the graduates have the opportunity to continue their studies in the world’s leading military institutions. One of such institution is the UK Sand Hurst Royal Military Academy, where royal family members from around the world come to study. Upon completion of our program in the academy, soldiers from England came to select our Georgian cadet, the military attaché received three applications from our Academy and they selected me, I did not expect it but I was very happy then and even now. About ten people have since come around to study in this institution from Georgia, but I am still the first and only girl since inception. I am aware that there had previously been proposals to bring in more girls; however, they have not found candidates that measure up to standard. Statistics show that girls generally makeup the 20% in this institution, and this is why I consider myself to be very lucky as a foreigner.
What are your expectations and your plans?
I know that I have a very difficult, but interesting year ahead. It is a great responsibility to be the face of an entire country, especially in military terms. As for my plans for the future, it is difficult to predict anything in my field, but I know one thing, I will always be there when my homeland needs me.