Col. Zuzana Kročová, first woman to lead Defence University, due to become second female general in Czech history

Colonel Zuzana Kročová, photo: archive of University of Defence in Brno

Colonel Zuzana Kročová this month became the first woman ever to lead the University of Defence, a branch of the Czech Armed Forces that offers a wide range of advanced degrees. The freshly minted university rector will also soon officially become the second female general in Czech history.

Today a leading expert in highly infectious biological agents, Col. Kročová began working for the former Military Medical Academy in 1996, after earning a chemistry degree from the Masaryk University. She only joined the professional ranks of the Czech military ten years later, at the age of 46, and began working towards a doctorate in clinical immunology at Palacký University.

Students of University of Defence, photo: archive of University of Defence

Her official title at the University of Defence in Brno is “Rector-Commandant”, a function that also comes with a promotion to general. However, the official ceremony bestowing that rank upon her will not take place until autumn. Meanwhile, Col. Kročová told Czech Radio that leading the University of Defence is for her the more significant milestone.

“It is quite an important function. The selection process was rigorous, and I’m very pleased to have been appointed to the position. There were four candidates, three men and myself. I beat them in the first round. But I’m happy mainly because I now have the opportunity to achieve my goals, like working toward the university environment becoming more favourable for academic staff and students alike.”

The University of Defence provides higher education to current and future military professionals, as well as civilians working in the national security and defence sectors, and other key strategic industries.

It offers specialised degrees in engineering, applied technical sciences, chemistry and medicine, for example focusing on field surgery or treating victims of chemical weapons attacks, all towards preparing graduates for deployment in the field, including soldiers on NATO missions.

Her official title at the University of Defence in Brno is “Rector-Commandant”, a function that also comes with a promotion to brigadier general. However, the official ceremony bestowing that rank upon her will not take place until autumn. Meanwhile, Col. Kročová told Czech Radio that leading the University of Defence is for her the more significant milestone.

Students of University of Defence, photo: archive of University of Defence

Soon-to-be-General Kročová describes herself as an athlete “in body and soul” with a life-long focus on the hard sciences. Her fields of expertise – immunology and microbiology, chemistry and medicine – are also those in which Czech soldiers serving in foreign missions generally specialise. Since joining NATO in 1999, Czech units have served everywhere from Iraq to the Balkans, manly in specialised anti-biological and chemical (ABC) units, as well in mobile field hospitals.

“My mission at the university, which confers the rank of general, is mainly to educate personnel for the military. Our students are heading into the Czech Army, and my task is to prepare them for the army’s specialised needs. It is now up to me to negotiate with generals with different specialities to their satisfaction. That is my aim from the military standpoint.”

Like Col. Kročová, the very first woman to become a general, Lenka Šmerdová, appointed in 2017, rose up the ranks of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. With more than 3,000 professional female soldiers, the Czech Republic is among the top five NATO countries with regard to the number of women in uniform.