The Ecuadorean Navy Paratrooper Course in Freefall Jumping ended on January 16, 2018, at San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil. Eighteen Ecuadorean service members received a graduation certificate, including two female Marine Corps officers: Lieutenant Paola Ochoa and Lieutenant Junior Grade Gabriela Urquizo.
“The Navy saw an opportunity for women to serve as an example, commanding their troops in the kind of daily leadership that this activity tends to call for,” Ecuadorean Navy Captain Ángel Orellana, commander of the Marine Corps, told Diálogo. “That’s how we came to have these first female freefall jumping paratrooper officers.”
The female paratroopers completed the same tests and exercises as their male peers, based on seven levels of instructional techniques in the Accelerated Freefall Course. Ecuadorean Marine Corps instructors trained them for three and a half months.
“I'm sure more women will come after us, and they won’t just be freefall jumpers, but also amphibious troopers or commandos for Special Forces units,” Lt. j.g. Urquizo told Diálogo. Lt. j.g. Urquizo attends the Naval Leadership Course at the Ecuadorean Navy’s Naval War College, and will be promoted to the rank of lieutenant in December 2018.
The freefall jumping course is part of the training for Navy members. In this edition, the Navy changed its teaching method to shorten the duration of jumps for paratroopers to improve their style. “By taking that measure, we also reinforced security procedures in paratrooper operations,” Capt. Orellana said. “We've had virtually no accidents in freefall jumping for many years.”
Participants were selected through a long and rigorous screening process. In addition to the group jumping course, officers also took a course in riverine [combat] operations. They also received high scores in the physical, academic, and psychological tests.
“This training allowed us to show that there was nothing stopping us from being trained in the course. We earned our spot in the course through hard work,” Lt. Ochoa, who is also Ecuador’s first female marine, said to Diálogo. “With this freefall jumping course, we broke the mold, because no woman ever took it before.”
During the training, participants jumped from altitudes of 12,500 feet. “Approximately 40 seconds into the jump, I opened the parachute at 4,500 feet. I experienced a sense of freedom. There is no vertigo. It’s like flying,” Lt. Ochoa said. “The ride down took four minutes at high speed.”
All students had to pass the course with a high score. “It wasn’t easy to meet the specific parameters to carry out freefall jumps,” Lt. j.g. Urquizo said. “But seeing the ramp opening up on the plane, feeling the icy air, and jumping without looking back or hesitating, enjoying the flight, it's the most exciting thing,” she added. “It’s an adrenaline rush. I like it.”
Both Ecuadorean marines want to pursue their career in the air wing to become jump chiefs. The Ecuadorean Navy, they concurred, has offered a lot of opportunity so women can develop their skills and physical abilities in line with the Navy’s needs and requirements. “Up to now, we’ve done quite well—we’ve helped the institution expand,” Lt. j.g. Urquizo said.
Making the path
“They [the female paratroopers] have allowed us to expand our best leadership exercise for the troops and participate in high-risk military trainings. We’re now fully in the 21st century, and we need to open up spaces for women in the armed forces,” Capt. Orellana said. “Women have exemplified hard work, dedication, and professionalism.”
The Ecuadorean Armed Forces have welcomed women in their ranks since 1950. “The Navy was the first to incorporate female officers, issuing its first call for female specialist officers—that is, officers who join the military after earning a university degree—in 1977. In 1999, Eloy Alfaro School for Higher Learning graduated six lieutenants as specialists and accepted eight female university graduates as cadets,” the Ministry of National Defense website states. “Currently, the Army has 452 women, and the Navy 429, whereas the Ecuadorean Air Force has 282 [female] service members.”
The nation’s gender policy for the armed forces seeks to be inclusive. There are four objectives to be met: to enhance equal opportunities in accordance with the career plan for men and women; promote the welfare of all military personnel; foster coed opportunities for service members based on respect for the principles of equality; and prevent and control acts of discrimination.
In recent years, Navy women have made inroads in several areas as officers on warships, pilots, and in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard. “The armed forces are a mirror to society,” Lt. Ochoa said. “Today, [women] are an essential human element in the Navy, Army, and Air Force. Little by little, you make the path as you go, and old paradigms get broken. The same thing happens in Ecuadorean society.”
“As women, we opened a path for ourselves the moment we decided to join the military,” Lt. j.g. Urquizo said. “We’re on par with men intellectually and as human beings. The physical aspect, is harder for us, because we can’t compare our physical performance with that of men. But we try to get there. The Navy doesn’t change for women. We had to adapt to the Navy.”
“The Ecuadorean Navy is in the process of maturing, a process of professionally grooming them [the women],” Capt. Orellana concluded. “I’m sure that in just a few more years, they’ll be occupying positions of great importance in our institution, because in their careers, they’ll be able to rise to positions as high as admirals or navy commanders in accordance to their merits.”