RAF Officer, Elaine West, Smashes Glass Ceiling With First Female Appointment

An RAF officer has been appointed as the armed forces' first ever female two-star officer, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced.

Elaine West has been promoted to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal to take up the role of director of Projects and Programme Delivery at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

The 51-year-old, who has climbed through the ranks over a 34-year RAF career, will lead the way in programming and delivering multi-million pound infrastructure projects to support military training, improve defence capability and oversee the drawdown of army units from Germany, the Ministry of Defence said.

Elaine West

Announcing her promotion today, Mr Hammond said it showed there was no "glass ceilings" for women officers.

He said: "We need the best and the brightest talent in senior positions as we transform defence over the next few years as we build Future Force 2020 and that means selecting people from across defence, irrespective of gender.

"I am pleased that we are demonstrating in defence that there are no 'glass ceilings' for female officers who have the necessary abilities to rise to the senior ranks."

Air Vice-Marshal West joined the RAF in late 1978, aged 17, in the lowest rank as an aircraftwoman. She has worked in more than 18 roles and served in bases across the world.

She said: "It is with enormous pride that I take up my new appointment as Director of Projects and Programme Delivery within the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

"I am privileged to have served in the RAF and to have enjoyed so many challenging roles over the years. To now be the first female military two-star is a truly unexpected bonus.

"I know so many inspirational women across all three services who continue to make a substantial contribution to operations and our armed forces more widely.

"This is a terrific opportunity and one that I'm looking forward to immensely."

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What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?

Before Air Vice-Marshal West's promotion, the highest rank held by a regular serving female officer in the modern-day RAF was Air Commodore - a one-star post.

In predecessor organisations the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF), there had been a two star rank of Air Chief Commandant.

The highest ranking female officer in the navy has been Commodore and the highest rank achieved by a woman in the army has been Brigadier, the MoD said.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford said: "Elaine West's promotion to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal is thoroughly well deserved and I wish her every success in her challenging role within the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

"The Royal Air Force is proud of its record as an equal opportunities employer, we were recognised most recently by the Times as one of the UK's top 50 female employers, and it is fantastic to see more female officers reaching top positions within the service.

"The vast majority of roles in the armed forces are open to women and I would encourage everyone, regardless of gender to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them within the military."