GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Artillery gun crews have one of the Army’s most physical jobs, lugging ammunition around as heavy as the massive 96-pound shells blasted by 155 mm howitzers.

That might be one reason why, in the U.S. Army, artillery and other combat military occupational specialties, such as infantry and tanks, are off-limits to women.

But there is no prohibition on women serving in the British artillery, and six female artillery personnel training at Grafenwöhr with the 26th Regiment Royal Artillery are keen to show they can do the job as well as any man.

Second Lt. Lori Sharp, 23, of Fife, Scotland, recently graduated from Sandhurst, the British army’s equivalent to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She is on her first exercise at Grafenwöhr.

“Artillery is seen as one of the hardest things for a girl to join. This is the closest a woman can get to the front line, so we have to keep up with the boys,” she said Tuesday, adding that women are still not allowed to serve in British infantry or tank units.

Sharp said the asymmetric nature of modern warfare makes it difficult to shield female personnel from the front lines.

“Somebody who is in logistics is just as likely to get hit as somebody who is in the infantry,” she said, noting that another female officer a year ahead of her at Sandhurst was recently killed in action.

Another woman serving with 26th Regiment, Gunner Melissa Edwards, 18, of Morecambe, England, said she’s been carrying shells for 11 months.

“A lot of the lads think females shouldn’t be able to do it, but we can do it as well as them,” Edwards said. “There is always stuff to do and it is fast and furious. When I first got here I thought the shells were really heavy, but now I think it is easier to move around with them.”

Warrant Officer Craig Mason of the Royal School of Artillery, who is overseeing the gunnery at Grafenwöhr, maintains that women are more than capable of performing artillery duties.

The regiment’s commander, Lt. Col. Karl Ford, said his soldiers, based out of Gütersloh, Germany, are getting ready for missions to Iraq and Afghanistan next year.

In recent years the regiment has had elements constantly on the ground in Afghanistan, while others returned from Iraq earlier this year, he said.

author picture
Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up