First Czech female general: In the army you never accomplish anything just by yourself

Lenka Šmerdová

This February marks exactly 80 years since the Czechoslovak Army started to enlist women in its services. Today, there are two female generals serving in the Czech military. The first one to be promoted to the rank of general was Lenka Šmerdová nearly five years ago.

In 2007 Lenka Šmerdová became the first Czech woman in the country’s modern history to be appointed to the rank of Colonel. Ten years later, in May 2017, she was appointed the first female general in the Czech Armed Forces.

This is how she described the moment in an interview for Radio Prague International:

“It was a great recognition not only of my work, but also of the work of my colleagues. In the army, you never accomplish anything just by yourself.

“I still remember the event at Prague Castle, which was really unique. I was appointed along with war veterans and to walk alongside them was truly unforgettable.

“Now I have another fellow general who is the Rector of the Defence University and there are nine other women serving in the rank of colonel.”

Lenka Šmerdová | Photo: Zdeňka Trachtová,  Czech Radio

For years, Czechoslovak military regulations did not allow women in the military and it was not until WWII that women were permitted to enlist in the military.

Today, there are more than 3,700 women serving at the Czech Ministry of Defence, making up nearly 15% of the overall staff, says Mrs. Šmerdová.

“Today, women have a place in all units, even in combat, in the air force, in the ground troops, in the castle guard, in the military police. Time has allowed us to work our way up not only to all ranks, but in all specialties, where we can demonstrate our skills.

“Women in the military not only try to do their job as best as they can, but most of them are also great in organizing their family, work and leisure time.

“But that wouldn’t be possible without a proper background. It very much depends on your family, your husband, your kids, your friends and your colleagues.”

Lenka Šmerdová | Photo: Jitka Englová,  Czech Radio

General Lenka Šmerdová says she wanted to work in the army since she was a schoolgirl. She joined army ranks in 1984 and gradually worked her way up. She admits that being a woman in a primarily male environment was sometimes a challenge.

“Time is moving forward and even though there might have been some doubt at the beginning, I have always had great subordinates, colleagues, and commanders who let me do my job. That made them realize that I could do it and they didn’t try to undermine my efforts.

“As an advisor to the Chief of Staff on the Armed Forces with a focus on personnel and gender issues, I now spend a lot of time with soldiers, veterans as well as military retirees, which is really fulfilling.”