A short story about women's voluntary military service in Finland

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The author has completed voluntary military service for women in Finland. This article is specifically about military service in the Finnish Defence Forces, but might be useful and applicable for other places, too.

As a young girl, I admired my older brother who came home on leave with a buzz cut and a cool beret, and I wanted to return home someday just as sharp and cool-looking. However, when I learned that my brother might be called to fight and potentially sacrifice his life for Finland, my perception of military service became tinged with fear. Despite this fear, my interest in military service persisted, and at times, I felt that it was both my right and duty to undergo this experience – but at other times, it seemed that the military was only for fearless guys, and girls couldn't possibly handle it.

The moment came when boys of the same age eventually left for military service. I realized that if those dudes could make it there, so could I. With the same logic, I later decided to apply for leadership training as well.

Everyday Life in the Finnish Military

Initially, military life seemed mundane, with endless queues and rushed clothing changes just to stand in line again. Non-commissioned officers appeared fixated on trivial matters rather than focusing on elements crucial for military training. As weeks passed, I found more enjoyment as the actual military training progressed, allowing us to engage more in practical activities outdoors. The learning curve was steep but rewarding.

Experiencing hardships during basic training, non-commissioned officer school, and reserve officer school forged strong bonds among our group. These bonds created a sense of teamwork that I have yet to experience in civilian life. I deeply appreciate my platoon and squad mates, as well as the instructors who supported me throughout my service. The military taught me that together, we can achieve more than by toiling individually.

Worst Part of the Military

The most challenging aspect of my military experience was the harassment and bullying I encountered. Female leaders, including myself, endured derogatory comments. On occasion, the door to the women's quarters was even barricaded from the inside at night to keep troublemakers at bay. To the credit of the Defence Forces, reports of harassment were promptly addressed, investigations were conducted, and the worst offenders were swiftly expelled. While most of my fellow soldiers demonstrated respect and proper conduct, there are always a few rotten apples.

If given the chance to alter my military experience, I would address the issue of breaks. During brief respites, female soldiers had limited time to find a suitable spot in the snow or woods, struggling to take off half of the combat gear, only to trudge back before long. Faced with unyielding break policies, I coped by inducing dehydration during field exercises, particularly in winter, to minimize the need for bathroom breaks. If you don't drink that much, you don't have to pee. You can probably imagine how 5 days of dehydration affects physical and mental performance. The biggest advantage of getting a higher military rank for me was being able to plan when and how long my bathroom breaks were!

In retrospect, I can say that the military has been one of the best and worst times of my life. I'm proud to say that, like my older brother, I can be called upon to defend my homeland. Of course, I hope that never happens.

A few pointers

Finally, a few tips for anyone considering military service for women:

  • If you are motivated, athletic, enjoy nature, and have a proactive attitude, there is no reason not to consider military service.
  • Prioritize physical training for the military. While determination can see you through, being in top physical shape makes the experience much more manageable.
  • In Finland, women have a 30-day window to decide if military service suits them. If lacking genuine motivation, it's better not to prolong the commitment.
  • Hydration and proper gear maintenance are key. Drink water and change your socks regularly to ensure optimal performance.

In summary, my military journey has provided invaluable experiences. These experiences have shaped me and imparted lessons that will resonate throughout my life.

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