Chile: Female Service Members Playing Key Roles

Chile: Female Service Members Playing Key Roles

By Dialogo
January 11, 2011

VALPARAÍSO, Chile – The Chilean Armed Forces have 556 members deployed
in peace operations.
One of them is MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti),
which began in 2004 and has 514 Chilean troops. So far, Chile has participated in a
total of 20 peace missions, five of which are ongoing. interviewed Cpt. Andrea Fuentes Eisendecher,
one of the 68 female service members who have represented the country in peace
Fuentes, 30, spent about seven months in Haiti in 2009. When and why did you enlist in the army?

Fuentes: It was in 1999 and I did it because I grew up watching my
mother work. She was an officer in the army. Following her example, I decided to
enter the institution, and I chose the same service (area of responsibility) to
which she belonged. What is your specialty?

Fuentes: I am an officer with the Female Military Line Service. In
civilian terms, it is equivalent to human resources. I chose this service because
[one’s] work directly benefits the institution’s personnel. I’ve always had a strong
urge to serve, and I believed that I could develop my abilities within this
specialty and be able to contribute to the common good. What was the selection process to represent Chile in

Fuentes: The application process is the same for women as it is for
men. There are physical ability tests, which are part of the institution’s yearly
examination, psychological tests and an English-language accreditation by the army.
After that stage, I passed a training period called “pre-deployment,” which the army
used to select the staff that would be included in the mission. How many were in your unit?

Fuentes: The Twelfth Chilean Battalion was made up of 188 members from
the Chilean army and navy. In the section to which I was assigned, there were three
females: a non-commissioned officer in the navy, a non-commissioned officer in the
army and me. How did you feel when you accepted the mission?

Fuentes: When I was notified that I had passed the application
requirements and was part of the staff who would participate in the pre-deployment
training period, I was very excited to be faced with a new challenge, keeping in
mind at all times the great commitment this implied as a representative of women in
the armed forces, of the institution and of my country. What were your duties in Haiti?

Fuentes: I was the officer for the Civil and Military Cooperation
(CIMIC) Section. We coordinated between the MINUSTAH Headquarters in the city of
Cap-Haïtien and local authorities to provide support activities for the community.
Some of the activities included bringing drinking water to different parts of
the city and to public schools, repairing classroom furniture, teaching personal
hygiene classes to prevent illness and teaching first aid classes. We also organized
free medical visits and assisted health officials in teaching a course on baking so
[Haitians] could develop a trade to earn money. What struck you the most about the Haitian people?

Fuentes: The children’s interest in learning and their parents’
interest in providing them an education. What have you gained in personal and professional

Fuentes: Having been deployed to MINUSTAH taught me what is personal is
linked very closely to what is professional. It is a life experience, where you
learn that your personal interests become completely [unimportant] when it comes to
reaching out to someone who really needs help.
It is not only your personal desire to do your work in the best way possible,
but it’s the image of carrying a whole country on your shoulders, which is what the
army tries to do. In addition, you know that your life could be in danger. You learn
to work under a different kind of pressure than the one you have in your own
country, and to make careful decisions that are paramount to carrying out the
The most meaningful thing I learned in Haiti was not the vital importance of
wearing the blue helmet every time I had to get into a vehicle or wearing a
bullet-proof vest and carrying my weapons every day when I went out. The most
important thing I learned was that the infinite innocence in a child’s look of
gratitude made the risk worth it. What are your future plans?

Fuentes: I want to continue developing my abilities regarding peace
missions and to turn my experience over to future generations who decide to apply
for peace operations, which is how I can continue to contribute to the institution. How can service women help in peace missions?

Fuentes: Female personnel can contribute to peace missions by covering
a larger number of posts because it is important that the [local] community see the
presence of women.
Women have an inherent sensitivity, which allows us to reach out to the
civilian world with great empathy, considering we are as prepared as our male peers.
Being employed in tasks regarding the coordination of activities between
civilians and the military is a great way to be in contact with the community.