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Female soldiers march into history

(China Daily)

09:36, August 17, 2011

These soldiers in the Second Artillery Force have completed 16 months of training to be missile launchers. (Xinhua Photo)

But for the devastating earthquake, Chen Qin would not be part of Chinese military history.

Last month, Chen, 25, and her colleagues became the first female missile unit in the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"At first I just wanted to join the artillery troops to fulfill the dream of my deceased brother. But now I find I can do as well as the men, sometimes better," Chen, from the Qiang ethnic group, said last week.

Chen Qin's elder brother, Chen Dagui, served in the same division of the Second Artillery Force (SAF), which controls both nuclear and conventional missiles.

On May 12, 2008, when the 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Beichuan, near the epicenter of the Sichuan earthquake, the lieutenant was home on leave. Chen Dagui helped many people escape from a mudslide, but he was engulfed in mud-and-rock flow, with his grandmother, parents and bride.

Chen Qin, then a high school teacher in Mianyang, Sichuan province, was the only survivor in the family.

At the end of 2008, she joined the SAF to follow her brother's footsteps. In March 2010, the young woman with a bachelor's degree in Chinese language was selected for the SAF's first unit of female missile-launching soldiers.

Looking at potential

Hu Huaiyu, political commissar of the regiment, said the unit set a relatively high standard when building the new team.

Applicants had to have at least a high school diploma, he said, "yet more focus was put on the quality and potential of the individual. She also had to be quick in learning new things and be determined to serve for national defense."

Thirty-one soldiers and four officers were chosen, and their average age is 23. All but three had at least a junior college diploma; one was a senior art major at Tsinghua University, one of China's best colleges.

Over the next 16 months, the young women went through tough days.

"We tried to pick those of good physical and psychological quality and designed a scientific training plan," Hu said. "Still, some of the women's hands trembled when they had dinner after rigorous training at the start."

Hu said he was impressed by their determination. The physical training was taxing and included running 3,000 meters every day.

"It was a difficult job, but my body got used to the challenge," said Wang Xiaoli, 23, the Tsinghua student. She joined the PLA in 2009, and can return to her studies after completing her enlistment period.
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