Leading Female Officer Speaks at NATO Conference in Norfolk on Behalf of Women

Canadian Navy Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett (second from left).  Photo credit: Paolo Giordano.
Canadian Navy Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett (second from left).
Photo credit: Paolo Giordano.

NORFOLK, Va. – “I open doors for women,” said Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett. The distinguished naval officer made her presence felt at NATO’s Chiefs of Transformation Conference (COTC), which was held at the Waterside Marriot Hotel in Norfolk from Dec. 8-10, 2015. Rear-Admiral Bennett was amongst the panel of speakers at the annual event for invited chiefs of transformation and 28 partner nations.

Being the only female NATO representation from Canada at COTC, Rear-Admiral Bennett sees herself as a catalyst for change. She spoke exclusively with Regent University students, Flora Khoo (School of Communication and the Arts) and Nataly Hurtado (College of Arts and Sciences) on Dec. 9, 2015 about COTC panel’s discussion on issues pertaining to NATO’s implementation of gender perspective in accordance with the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325.

The UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its related resolutions have been the basis of NATO’s integration of the gender perspective in its military operations for the past fifteen years. The Atlantic Alliance believes that applying a gender perspective will advance its operational outcome and fortify its military capability.

At the recent UN Security Council on Oct. 13, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow reaffirmed the key aim of the landmark resolution: “To inspire a new approach to international security, where the views and actions of women are every bit as important as those of men, and where their inclusion is guaranteed.”

NATO developed the Gender Education and Training Package based on a training needs analysis. Its goal is to augment awareness on a gender perspective in its military operations and provide support for NATO and its partners to fortify their gender capacity and capabilities. The gender perspective is integrated when issues are studied from the point of view of both men and women in order to detect differences in needs and priorities as well as in abilities and potential.

Rear-Admiral Bennett described how the gender test in Canada was replaced with a gender-neutral test. This created a new standard for those entering the military.

“We have redesigned new tests across forces, navy, air and army,“ said Rear-Admiral Bennett. The new initiative included a series of four tests that was designed on the basis of everyday activities common to all across the military. For instance, lifting people was a common denominator of work across the military. Hence, the first test was the Sandbag Lift. The soldier had to do 30 consecutive lifts of a 44-pounds (20 kilograms) sandbag to a height of above three feet (91.5 centimeters) and alternating between left and right sandbags separated by four feet (1.25 meters).

The second was the Intermittent Loaded Shuttles Test, in which the soldier had to complete 10 shuttles. The distance of each shuttle was 22 yards (20 meters) one-way and 22 yards (20 meters) back. The test alternated between a loaded shuttle with a 44-pounds (20 kilograms) sandbag and an unloaded shuttle for a total of 440 yards (400 meters).

In the test for 20-meters Rushes, the soldier started from prone position and had to complete two shuttle sprints and drop to a prone position for every 11 yards (10 meters) for a total of 88 yards (80 meters). The distance of each shuttle was 22 yards (20 meters) in one direction and 22 yards (20 meters) back.

In the Sandbag Drag Test, the soldier had to carry a 44-pounds (20 kilograms) sandbag and drag a minimum of four sandbags on the ground for 22 yards (20 meters) without stopping.

Canada’s gender-neutral military test is an example of a single standard military physical capacity test. It was designed to determine the soldier’s ability to do the job and thousands of people were tested with the same unit of weight.

Rear-Admiral Bennett recognizes that women think differently from men, but she believes that women could make a difference in both military operations and in key leadership positions. She joined NATO in the mid-70s, during a time where women were expected to stay at home and be homemakers.

Over the past 40 years, she rose through the ranks to become Canada’s first female rear admiral and the most senior ranking reserve officer. In 2011, she was appointed as Chief of Reserves and Cadets, and she advised the Chief of the Defence Staff about matters concerning the 35,000 member strong Reserve Force. She was appointed as the National Champion for Women in Defence in 2013. Two years later, Rear-Admiral Bennett was appointed to her current position as Director General of Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct in support of Operation HONOR, in Ottawa, Ontario.

“I have been the first a lot,” acknowledges the soft-spoken trailblazer. “I enjoy influencing other nations and not imposing on them.” Bennett is the navy’s first female rear admiral and the second-highest-ranking woman in the Canadian military since Lieutenant General Christine Whitecross, the military’s top female general, was promoted to her new rank in May 2015. Rear-Admiral Bennett has been recognized for her exceptional leadership and service in both military and civilian communities. She leads dual careers, as a Canadian Armed Forces member, and as teacher and school administrator. In 2011, she was named as one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women, as a Public Sector Leader by the Women’s Executive Network. In 2013, She was promoted from Officer in the Order of Military Merit (OMM) to Commander (CMM).

Rear-Admiral Bennett is a graduate of the Canadian Forces Staff School, Canadian Forces Staff College, NATO School and NATO Defense College.