Lenka Šmerdová


“Women (don’t just) enrich the army”


Lenka Šmerdová, first female Brigadier General in Czech Republic

It’s been three weeks since you were named in your role, Brigadier General… What does it feel like to be the first woman in the position in the Czech Republic? Have you got used to it?

It’s an incredible feeling. It’s still new to me. Every day there are situations which are unique and sometimes touching. You can’t get used to that. I think I’m always going to be aware of the great appreciation and also trust I have received for my work, and the work of my colleagues. I very much appreciate it.

You’ve said that your appointment could open the doors to other women. This is your second time being first; you were also the first woman appointed to the position of colonel. What advice do you have for women who want to get a higher position in the Czech army? And for women in general regardless of where they are?

I’m pleased that equality isn’t just something that’s spoken about in the army. Women have shown in recent decades that we belong to the army and we can enrich it. That’s why I believe that my appointment could encourage other women and give them the courage and support in endeavouring to achieve their goals. And there are many other women around me who have fought for their position, respect and esteem and I admire them greatly, regardless of whether they are in uniform or not. It is important to get the opportunity, not to waste it and to keep working on yourself. It also demands self-confidence and the strength to pursue your goals. We all have desires and wishes. Some of these are met through our partners and children, but others we have to achieve ourselves.

You’ve been in the army since 1984 and you work in personnel and recruitment. How has the approach to this area changed over time?

I think an important milestone was the movement from the unpopular compulsory military service to a professional army which is gaining ever greater favour not just amongst men, but also women. We have now even managed to fill up our so-called active reserve force with volunteers. Understandably, personnel work and recruitment has grown in importance over the years in a professional army. This involves working with people and especially for people, and it is people who are the army’s most valuable resource. I also consider my appointment into general rank as an expression of the importance of my work not just in acquiring human resources for the army, but also in our care for them, training and educating high quality soldiers.

Many private companies are suffering from recruitment problems at a time of low unemployment. How is the Czech Army dealing with this situation?

Although Defence is perceived as a responsible, reliable and attractive employer, it is getting harder and harder to find new military personnel. We’re not alone in this on the labour market; besides civilian bodies, other branches of the armed forces and security and rescue forces are in the same boat. And we are all interested in the same individuals; young, healthy educated people.

The army’s good work at home and abroad is not enough to promote it. We have to actively draw the public’s attention to the opportunities offered by the army – as such the army must be seen and heard all the time. We’ve got a campaign currently running on a number of radio stations, we’re active on the internet, we use social networks. Interested candidates can apply from the comfort of home. We have also published reports in the regional press. We further arrange recruitment activities in the field, at large nationwide or smaller regional events. Recruiters also travel to job exchanges, to schools and to various sports events where they have the opportunity to meet scores of active people. We must constantly seek out new methods and opportunities to appeal to the public and gain the candidates we need. In this regard, the army must not be left behind.

You’re married and have a son. How do you manage to combine work and family?

My family is incredibly important to me. Without the support of my husband and son I would not be able to manage this job. I’m not able to do everything at home on time or absolutely perfectly, but for us it is most important to be together so I appreciate all the time we spend together, which we all enjoy and savour.

You are also an advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Czech Armed Forces. Could tell us more about this role? What strategic issues are you looking at in the security field?

I’m an advisor in the field of human resources and for the army as well as me this is a new situation because we were not previously used to considering human resources from a comprehensive perspective. As such it will be my task to consult on these aspects within the context of other tasks and work them into individual development concepts.

From your expert position, do you see today’s world as safer or less safe? And what about the Czech Republic?

All of us are undoubtedly thinking about the outlook for global security and how its development will influence us in future. Most experts agree that the situation is currently more unstable and hard to predict than before. I can see specific impacts through society and peoples’ interest in security, which has grown in recent years. In the context of events, ever more citizens are aware that stability and security doesn’t just cost something, but it is also important that they get actively involved, whether by deciding to join the military professionals, or perhaps taking the path of being an active reservist combining a civilian and military career in one. I think that is a fundamental change which should inspire optimism.


Linda Štucbartová