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.