How the female pioneers of the cadet movement inspired me


With the help of inspiring female role models, Cadet Sergeant Major Emily Haigh has overcome anxiety and lack of confidence to reach one of the highest ranks in the Army Cadet Force (ACF). As the movement marks 40 years since females were first welcomed into its ranks, she explains why she wants to show others what they can achieve.

“It must have taken a lot of bravery for those first few females to take the step and start to change the way the ACF was perceived. It was like a modern-day Suffragette movement –  equality for men and women. And it’s only right that as a female Cadet Sergeant Major that I carry on paving the way to show females what they are capable of and just how much they can achieve. 

“It’s so normalised now, that around 30 per cent of cadets and adult volunteers in the ACF are female. It’s easy to feel like you belong and have a place, which is amazing to see, especially when that percentage is growing year on year.

I’ve overcome so many obstacles

“Being a female Cadet Sergeant Major is not only just a great position to have, as it shows I have worked hard, been successful and can lead. It’s difficult in the ACF to gain the rank of Sergeant Major and it’s a real privilege to say I’ve overcome so many obstacles to be the best cadet I can be. 

“My journey to get to the position I am in has been anxiety-filled and I’ve had a complete lack of confidence in myself from the beginning. If it wasn’t for the inspiring female role models that have guided me through my cadet career, I wouldn’t have developed the mind-set I now pass on to my cadets – both male and female, senior and junior. 

It’s ok to struggle

“It’s important to me that I pass on what I have learnt. As a leader I want to lead from the front and to say to my fellow female cadets that it’s ok to struggle, it’s ok to have confidence issues, it’s ok to step out of your comfort zone … in the ACF you will have someone there to support you, someone to listen. This organisation will help you grow in confidence and help you succeed. I hope that other cadets will follow in my footsteps in the same way that I have followed those before me.

“During my time in the ACF I have attended so many difference courses and developed so many skills. I would advise anyone to take the opportunity to attend as many courses as they can. It not only gives you a wider understanding and a bigger knowledge base, but you get to expand your friendship network by meeting new cadets and have the opportunity to share experiences. Personally, I used to have this nauseating feeling going to some camps. It comes with having anxiety. I’ve been worried that I haven’t been up to the task or physically able to complete the course. But I have!

It is a lifetime experience

“There will be times you have to push yourself mentally, physically and emotionally to get the job done – but in the end it is a lifetime experience you’ll always take things from to use in the future in normal life away from the ACF.

“That’s what I think it means to be a female Sergeant Major. It means that you’re constantly pushing forward to achieve, even if it’s hard to keep up. It’s speaking up, asking ‘why?’ and saying ‘yes’ to things you wouldn’t normally say yes to, and it’s being a role model … and inspiring others to succeed and making your mark. I’m proud to have made mine.”

Reserve Forces