Leading the way in gender equality

Meet the Nachshol Reconnaissance Company – the world’s first and only combat company consisting entirely of women

Date: 27/01/2013, 6:00 PM     Author: Yair Barzilai

The IDF's female soldiers have long filled positions throughout the entire military spectrum, some of them serving as pilots, intelligence officers, naval officers, and search and rescue workers. In recent years, the opportunities open to women in combat units have grown, including through the establishment of the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion, in which women and men serve together as combat soldiers. The IDF reached a new milestone in 2006, establishing its first company consisting entirely of female combat soldiers – the Nachshol (Hebrew for "giant wave") Reconnaissance Company.

The Nachshol Company is part of the 80th Division of the Southern Command and is stationed along the Egypt-Israel border. This unit's central mission is to patrol and gather field intelligence in real time, requiring long hours of camouflaged undercover scouting. Nachshol soldiers sign up for an extra year of military service, serving a total of three years instead of the two years required of Israeli women. 

 “We are the only unit in the world made up entirely of female combat soldiers,” said Nachshol Company Commander Cpt. Dana Ben-Ezra. She emphasized that the missions undertaken by her unit's women are no less impressive than those performed by their male counterparts, saying, “My girls often carry out tasks more difficult than those of male combat soldiers.” 

Cpt. Dana Ben-Ezra

Cpt. Dana Ben-Ezra

Cpt. Ben-Ezra sees her unit as an important step against the inclination to view others according to social constructs and gender stereotypes. “We are used to seeing women as clerks, or in administrative positions; we have to change that perception. Every person must be judged according to his or her skills and capabilities,” she said.

Ultimately, she pointed out, the IDF would not have established the Nachshol Company had there not been a need for it. “If we were not relevant to the area that we protect, we would not be here. Our effectiveness and the dividends we earn are the factors by which we are measured, not our gender.”

Incorporating soldiers from abroad

The Nachshol Reconnaissance Company has gained a reputation for excellence and diligence, attracting women from all over the world to join and contribute. One such soldier, 22-year-old Cpl. Ariel Bruce, took a leave of absence from her studies at Washington University in St. Louis in order to serve in the unit, ultimately deciding to stay in Israel and complete her studies at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

“I lived here for one year after high school and always intended to return. I wanted to give everything I have to the country I love by serving in the IDF,” she said. According to Cpl. Bruce, while other jobs in the army may have seemed more natural for a new immigrant like herself, she preferred "a job in which I am not behind a desk, but rather out in the field, doing everything I physically can to serve the country."

The transition from university student to combat soldier may seem like a sharp turn, but Cpl. Bruce has settled smoothly into her new role. “Everyone here was welcoming, and we all became close friends pretty fast,” she recounted.

Cpl. Ariel Bruce

Cpl. Ariel Bruce

While she acknowledges the risks of serving as a combat soldier, she is reassured by the rigorous training that prepared her for this role. “Naturally, if you are not afraid, you don’t understand the risk you are taking and that can be dangerous,” she said. “It’s all about being well prepared," she added, noting that with proper preparation "the fear eventually disappears.” 

Cpl. Bruce sees no reason not to include women in combat units."If the woman is qualified, there is no reason why she can’t be a combat soldier,” she concluded.