Celebrating our Armed Forces and their families

In recognition of Armed Forces Day on June 26th, I’ve had the privilege to interview three brilliant serving officers and soldiers who’ve shared their insights on what they love about their careers, what they’ve learnt and what’s next for their professional futures.

For my final profile, I’d like to shine the spotlight on the career of Charmaine Geldenhuys, Ministry of Defence Staff Officer for Service Police.

Charmaine’s path so far: 

  • Enlisted as a medic 
  • Military Police Officer conducting general policing
  • Section Commander in Special Investigations Branch (equivalent to civilian CID)
  • 77 Brigade – Staff Officer for Human Rights and Rule of Law
  • Brigade Gender Advisor 
  • Company Commander Special Investigations Branch leading around 60 investigators 
  • MoD Staff Officer for Service Police 

What do you love most about your career?

I think there are probably two principle factors: the sense of purpose it brings and the people you meet. 

When you choose a career in the Forces, you know you’re doing something important and worthwhile – what you do counts in the long term. That sense of purpose is a key driver for me and plays an important part in my sense of self-worth. 

No matter how exciting the job is, the area where I feel I’ve had the greatest impact is in my relationships with other people. When you support people in developing their careers, you’re making an impact – there’s a visible reward and that’s important to me. 

What have been your greatest learnings so far?

The Army has been the making of me. I came over from South Africa, I didn’t know what I was going to do and I initially joined as a soldier. My experience so far has tested me, given me confidence and a certain level of expertise. It’s given me an opportunity to contribute to Society in an amazing way, and offered me the support to achieve all that I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve also gained a great deal of self-confidence – after 20 years in the military, you can throw any situation or crisis at me and I’ll handle it!

What are you most proud of?

Using the opportunities that I’ve had to make real, positive change. In our organisation, you’re always going to be part of a much broader puzzle, but in a small way you can make your mark and contribute to making significant change happen. In my role at the UN, I was able to implement systems, get senior officers invested and involved in critical issues and bring about change on an operational basis.  

Secondly, I take pride in my personal growth as a leader. I’m comfortable in the value that I bring to my team, and I’m proud of the way I’ve managed situations where staff have had particular issues with either physical or mental health problems, ensuring that they’ve had the support that they need.

What changes have you seen over the course of your career for women in the Forces?

In the first stages of my career, I was often the only woman in the room, there are now many more women in leadership roles, which is fantastic. 

The Army has become much more flexible in terms of parental care – giving greater latitude and support in terms of time management, but also in physical rehabilitation after pregnancy. Discussion forums have been set up and actively encouraged as good platforms to ensure that people have a voice. 

Overall, there is considerable focus on how to create an inclusive Force, where everyone feels valued and empowered.

We have work left to do – I still encounter negativity around sexual violence and an ‘alpha male’ culture that hampers our operational effect. But it’s changing, and will continue to evolve, as more women join the Army, in particular the Infantry corps and as more men proactively choose to champion women and support them through initiatives like mentorship. 

What words of wisdom would you give to your younger self?

“Have faith in your own abilities!” The combination of being a non- graduate and often the only woman in the room meant that I held myself back for a long time. I’d say to my younger self “don’t get hung up on what other people think. The opportunities are there, the struggle is worth it, so figure out what you want, what’s important to you and go after it!”

What’s next for you?

While I’m still serving, I aspire to command a Technical Special Investigation Unit and am considering studying for a PhD. Beyond that, I’m most interested in how I can leverage my expertise to make a difference in the gendered side of policing outside of the UK, in post-conflict countries. 

For Society to function well, visible security and order is necessary.  Women play a necessary and important role in understanding and responding to the differing ways that security should be understood and delivered. 

Celebrating our Armed Forces and their families

In recognition of Armed Forces Day on June 26th, I’ve had the privilege to interview three brilliant serving officers and soldiers who’ve shared their insights on what they love about their careers, what they’ve learnt and what’s next for their professional futures.

My second profile is of Bombardier Shelley Ambler, 47th Royal Artillery Regiment

Shelley’s path

  • 2008 Army Training Centre Harrogate (basic training) 
  • Phase 2 training at Larkhill (Artillery core training)
  • Joined 47th Royal Artillery Regiment 
  • 2012 served on Operation HERRICK 15, Afghanistan
  • 2017 took part in U.S. Exercise WARFIGHTER 
  • Currently in charge of Regimental Command Post as Detachment Commander 

What are the most important things you’ve learnt in your role?

In this job, you’re faced with challenges and adversity that you wouldn’t meet in any other role. So, mental robustness is probably the number one thing. You get used to thinking about how to approach challenges more broadly, from different perspectives and outside of the scope of your own job.

The types of environments we work and train in are also conducive to learning team work and leadership skills. I’ve had a lot of support in learning to recognise my own leadership style, the type of leader I am and the impact I want to have on the individuals I command.

What do you love most about your career?

First and foremost, I’d say support. My Chain of Command have given me the space and time to look after my two young daughters, whilst having a fantastic career in the Army. I’m a very sporty person and my career also gives me the flexibility to pursue my passion for badminton. I play at a high level and represent the UK Armed Forces. I’ve been supported both in developing that passion and also in being given the time to play in tournaments and matches throughout the year.

One of the other advantages of my job is the focus the Army puts on personal development. There are a lot of opportunities to develop new skills that help you grow personally and professionally. I plan to complete my 24-years of service and I know that when the day comes to start planning for my civilian career, I’ll have all the support and training I need to transition easily. 

What are you most proud of?

Everything I’ve achieved so far in the Army gives me a sense of pride. I really didn’t think I’d still be here after 12 years and reach the rank of Sergeant – I am and I have! It’s really satisfying.  Operation HERRICK 15 in Afghanistan stands out for me. It was one of my greatest achievements and at the same time one of the toughest times in my life. My daughter was 18 months old and I had to leave her for 7 months. I proved to myself, and others, that as a single parent I could do the job and do it well, just as well as everyone else.  

Badminton is your greatest passion – why is it so important to you?

The things that are important to me in badminton are also what matter to me at work. I love working and playing as part of a team. The badminton team is a really tight knit group –friends as well as colleagues and team members. And it’s exactly the same at work. Someone’s always got your back. You can talk openly with most people, regardless of rank. The Army has evolved considerably over the past 12 years, people are much more approachable and open to you sharing your thoughts and ideas than they were when I first joined. 

What do you hope your daughters learn from seeing you in your career?

I want them to understand the importance of being strong and striving for the goals you set yourself in life. Nothing is too hard if you put your mind to it – I want them to stretch themselves and go for what they really want rather than take the easy path forward.

What’s next?

I have just been selected for promotion to Sergeant, so I’ll be moving to another Battery as a Signals Sergeant towards the end of the year. I’ll do more training and have more responsibilities in terms of management. Beyond that, I’ve got another 14 years left, which I will definitely stay in for! I’m ambitious and aspire to go all the way to the top (Warrant Officer Class 1). 

What words of advice would you have for your younger self?

If I could do it all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing. The Army has been the best thing for me. It’s given me everything, so I would say to myself “go for it, you can do whatever you want, it’s a great career!” I certainly wouldn’t choose anything different for myself.