ASEAN Exercise Force 18: Sole woman officer cynosure of all eyes

Army sets its own record of sorts at ASEAN’s war games, where Lt Col Sophia Qureshi was the only woman officer leading a contingent among 300 international military personnel

Pune: While several military personnel were gathered at the College of Military Engineering, Pune, to celebrate the ending of Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) weeklong Exercise Force 18, a woman officer from the Indian Army was the cynosure of all eyes, and for good reason. Lt Col Sophia Qureshi was the only woman officer amongst the 300 participants from all over the world who was leading a 40-soldier strong contingent.

Lt Col Sophia Qureshi accepts a plaque from Army chief Dalbir Singh for successful participation and completion of the exercise
Lt Col Sophia Qureshi accepts a plaque from Army chief Dalbir Singh for successful participation and completion of the exercise

Qureshi, an officer from the Corps of Signals now has the rare distinction of becoming the first woman officer to lead an Indian Army training contingent in such a large multinational exercise. She also happens to be the only woman officer Contingent Commander amongst all other ASEAN Plus contingents present for the exercise.

Role model
“I come from a defence background. Joining the Army was a dream come true,” said Qureshi, while speaking to mid-day. Her husband serves in the Army as well. “I have a twin sister who is a professional shooter. She is also a model and I keep telling her, ‘you are a super model while I am a role model."

Qureshi (centre) poses for the camera with the other women officers who were a part of ASEAN’s Exercise Force 18
Qureshi (centre) poses for the camera with the other women officers who were a part of ASEAN’s Exercise Force 18

Qureshi has a master’s degree in biology and political science and has also done a bachelor’s degree in education. Apart from serving the Indian Army, she likes to research on the environment. She said, “I feel lucky to lead my team and represent India. We learnt a lot in the exercise. Imparting training was a learning process for us too. Moreover, I am a soldier of this motherland and would like to serve it till the end. I appeal to all the girls to join the forces, there is nothing like a gender bias.”

Apart from Qureshi, Lt Col Itika Suri, another woman officer who was a part of the team said, “Appreciating women in the armed forces could not have come on a better day than the international women’s day. It is an honour and a privilege to be part of this event as this has also helped us create a good, healthy relationship across the border.”

‘Admire the Indian Army’
Several other women officers from different countries were also a part of the exercise. Among them was 28-year-old Sergeant Tin Tin from Indonesia. She said, “Being a woman, I have been a part of the forces and have learnt a lot during my training. I admire the way the Indian Army contingent was headed by a woman officer. This has inspired me a lot and I would like to be like one of them in the future.”

Talking about her experience, officer Marianne, from the US Army said, “In our country, we do not have any discrimination; women are marching ahead in all fields. I had heard about India a lot but I never saw any discrimination here. Indian hospitality and women officers are the best. During training, I was impressed with the way the women officers from the Indian Army worked with us. They were trained about peace keeping operations and land mines methodology.”

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