‘It’s an extra challenge but soon you are one of the lads’

Pte Rebecca Harper (18).
Pte Rebecca Harper (18).

As TV show Our Girl hits our screens, ‘Our Girl’ Private Rebecca Harper is living army life for real.

At the tender age of just-turned 18, Private Rebecca Harper is not your stereotypical soldier.

Small and slight, with a shy smile and a quietly confident manner, she seems slightly out of place amongst all-male infantry troops fighting on the ground as part of the NATO-led Exercise Silver Arrow.

But with a huge weapon slung across her shoulder and in full uniform, have no doubt, Rebecca still commands respect.

She is one of 250 soldiers from across the north west have been in Latvia taking part in the NATO led Exercise Silver Arrow.

Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2Lancs) have been working with troops from Latvia, Norway, Estonia and the USA as part of a 2,000-strong ‘Battlegroup’ sized military training scenario.

The exercise, with a double aims of training and reassurance in a sensitive Eastern Europe, is an opportunity for British Forces to work alongside NATO partner nations as part of the UK’s commitment to the collective security of the alliance.

Silver Arrow is the latest in a series of Autumn exercises set in Eastern Europe.

Pte Harperis one of a tiny handful of women on camp – the majority of troops are all-male infantry.

This is something that can provide a few challenges.

The camp is situated at a former Soviet tanks base, the austere concrete shelters, with walls on only two sides, and sandy floors provide the only amenities. It feels like a prison camp.

Washing is in itself an exercise in ingenuity – and even tougher is you happen to be female.

It consists of giant pans of water heated on a gas stove which you spoon out into a bowl. No privacy whatsoever. And banks of temporary toilets, with just one set aside with the label ‘female’.

But Pte Harper takes it in her stride.

“Not having a shower for 11 days is hard,” she muses.

“You still have to wash but you hide yourself as much as you can

“It can be a bit intimidating at first. You have to sort of wear a sports bra and just do bits at a time.

“And here at camp we are staying with the lads but back at barracks we have separate accommodation with a code on the door – so we can get away from them!”

Pte Harper joined the army at just 16 in 2012, straight from school.

After completing her phase one training at the army foundation college Harrogate she went to do trade training in AJCSPS Winchester, with a clerical focus learning to work with pay and other clerical necessities.

But her role in Exercise Silver Arrow is far flung from your common, garden, office worker as you could imagine.

Fully armed, she explains: “I’m in the i-hub which deals with secret documents so if any the officers need something printed off they come to me.

“If they want something laminated, they come to me. Any little jobs.”

As a holder of a ‘pink stick’ and based in the nerve centre of the operation, Rebecca is one of only a handful of people who can access the top secret information which is key to the running of any operation or exercise.

But, with her junior rank, she also acts as a general dogsbody, helping the very senior officers with anything they may need.

She admits that working with the ‘top brass’ can be a little intimidating at first.

“At first you are a bit. It’s a bit weird, a little scary, but you get used to it very quickly and settle in wherever you are.

“It is an extra challenge being so young and a girl but again you get used to it and are soon one of the lads.”

She admits the hours are long, “I worked a 12 until 12 shift the first day and now I’m on eight till eight.”

But despite the 12-hour days and meagre accommodation she says she not swap her job for anything in the world.

“I’ve been in two years and I’ve been to Morocco climbing the Atlas mountains.

“I’ve been to Germany with my unit before and hopefully going to Kenya on a exercise next year. And Latvia!

“The travel side is really amazing. And seeing soldiers from other countries is really interesting.”

Rebecca is ambitious. She is looking forward to working towards promotion and advancing her army career.

Our girl is one of the lads of proud of it.