Ask anyone who grew up in Stettler knowing Helen Goldie, and they’ll be able to tell you that she would be playing with Barbies with the girls one day, and out making a fort with the boys the next.
The rough-and-tumble first-generation Canadian, daughter of British immigrants who settled in Stettler following the Second World War, Goldie was taught from a young age that her gender was irrelevant.
“As my father said, it wasn’t between my legs what mattered, it was what’s between my ears,” Goldie said, by phone from Victoria, where she’s now stationed.
The 57-year-old enlisted in the military at the tender age of 17, but it wasn’t at her father’s urging — he was a retired military man himself, a former military police officer.
“We went to Britain for vacation and I could see the navy working, and I just thought it was adventurous,” Goldie said. She was in her early teens at the time, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when in a school’s counselling office, that she picked up a military pamphlet.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said. “Go see the world, travel, free education.”
Even then, she wasn’t completely sold, not until she came home and her father saw the pamphlet.
“Dad was quite touched,” Goldie recalled. “He brought out a box of things he’d saved from his time, and we went through it together.”
That moment solidified Goldie’s desire to join the military and “carry on the family tradition.” She enlisted, and headed off to basic training.
In the mid 1970s, when Goldie was going through basic training, the Canadian military was in its infancy years of allowing women to become full members. Prior to this, women served in auxiliary positions, or as medical staff in hospitals.
Despite that, Goldie said she was never the victim of harassment or a strong unwelcoming feeling during her stint in Basic.
“There were a few older soldiers who didn’t want women in the military, but they came around,” she said. Or retired.
At the time Goldie went through basic training, everything was women. Her fellow enlistees were all women. Her instructors were all women.
“We didn’t see men,” she said, explaining they were completely separate from the young male enlistees. “The only time you dealt with men was in weapon training.”
The man who was training the girls in weapons training was one of the ones who accepted the idea of women joining the military, so Goldie didn’t get any pushback from him because of her gender.
“They pushed us, and it didn’t matter that you were a girl,” she said. Those who were lazy, did things wrong, or otherwise slacked suffered the same sort of penalties that a man who did the same would, she noted.
It wasn’t until the mid-80s that basic training became a co-ed training experience.
“I remember meeting the first women MPs (military police), the first women firefighters,” she said. “I never thought it at the time, but I was part of paving the way for the changes that followed.”
Today, Goldie said she can’t think of any part of the military that truly excludes women. She’s served in the air force, the army and now the navy, and everywhere she’s gone, she said she’d been treated as one of the military family.
“I served in Afghanistan,” she said. “There were 28 guys and me. I was the only woman and I didn’t even realize it until later, because they just treated me as one of them. There was never a gender divide.”
Goldie says that while some prejudices exist in the military, for the most part, people won’t judge you on your gender, race, or religion — rather, they’ll judge you on actions.
“I’ve seen grown men who are super strong and are afraid of mice,” Goldie said. “They’ll jump up on the bunk and I’ll be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and he’ll realize what he did. It’s instinctive. We all have fears and quirks, but really, we’re all the same.”
Goldie has three years left in her military career, and would have 40 years this year had she not taken years off to be a mother. Once her children were older, though, she returned to the military.
“Once I retire, I’ll probably continue working part time,” she said, likely as a reservist.