Captain Collette: The life of a woman on the front line

Capt Ashley Collette was the only woman in her platoon of soldiers on the Afghan front line – and she was in charge. In the Canadian armed forces, unusually, every job is open to women – and both sexes live together and fight together.

On the first day that Capt Ashley Collette and her platoon of 60 men were deployed in the remote town of Nakhonay, near Kandahar, they came under attack.

“I don’t think that the enemy liked our presence,” she says with a soldier’s understatement. “It’s kind of in the middle of where they want to be.”

That first day set the pattern for the next few months. Twice a day, Six Platoon – part of Bravo Company in the First Royal Canadian Regiment – endured enemy fire, both on patrol and directly on the camp. It was so regular that the soldiers nicknamed it “contact o’clock”.

But Collette says being shot at made a sort of sense to her troops – they could see the bullets lighting up the sky and mountains as they came towards them. It was the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and – towards the end of their rotation – suicide bombs, that wore on their nerves.