28 Feb Q&A with Capt Tania Noakes
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019 we spoke to Capt Tania Noakes (Oxford UOTC) about her career in the Regular Army which led on to a career with a Reservist Unit and a civilian job as an International Mountain Guide based in the Alps.
When did you join the Army and in particular the Royal Signals
I joined the Army in May 1997 when I went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. I was a Royal Signals Bursar at University and the Royal Signals had been very supportive so after Sandhurst I decided to join the Royal Corps of Signals. I attended a Troop Commanders course and had a short attachment to a Signals Unit in N Ireland before being posted out to 7 Signal Regiment who at that time were located in Krefeld, Germany.
Whilst there I served with a Troop attached to the French Brigade as part of the NATO force that went into Kosovo in 1999 and that is where I really got to grips with the French language and started to believe I could maybe live in France in the future.
Why did you decide a career in the Army was for you?
At the time I wanted a job working with people and I wanted a challenge, both physical and mental.
Looking back I now think that had more job opportunities been available to me I probably would have stayed for longer than my short-services career. I joined believing I had the skills and ability to do any job either physical or mental, but I found out that the same opportunities were not available to women at that time. I found this frustrating as I wanted the jobs that were tougher physically or more challenging mentally and tactically). After I had exhausted the opportunities available to me with the Army I decided to leave and join a profession where there were not the same constraints- for me that was Mountain Guiding.
When and why did you join the Reserves?
I joined the Reserves immediately on leaving the Regulars and as I had already gained several useful outdoor qualifications I wanted to continue working on Military expeditions, expanding my experience to become a Mountain Guide. I was with Leeds UOTC for three years and then moved across to Oxford UOTC where I have been for the past 14 years.
How did the Army help you gain qualifications and what did they do to facilitate your passion for climbing.
I did gain some qualifications through the Army, but not all of my qualifications. I already had my Mountain Leader (Summer) training when I went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as I had been considering a career as an outdoor instructor before joining. Whilst in the Regular Army I gained a few more qualifications but also paid for civilian qualifications at the National Mountain Training Centres where I spent most of my leave, because that was where my passion lay. I was fortunate to participate in two big Army expeditions whilst in the Regulars. The first was my first trip to Nepal where I was part of Exercise Himalaya Dragon which aimed to put an Army team on all the open trekking peaks in one season. It was a very ambitious expedition run by David Bageley and I was part of a ten strong team which went to climb Chulu West a 6000m peak in the West of Nepal. We were successful and it was a great team. I learnt a lot and it confirmed my heart lay in the mountains.
I then got the opportunity to go and climb on South Georgia in 2001 as part of a Tri-Service team which made the first ascent of Mount Roots, which at that time was the third highest peak in British territory and unclimbed!
That expedition really convinced me that I would like to be a Mountain Guide and from that point on I knew I had to leave the Regular Army to pursue my dream.
Whilst in the Reserves I have gathered experience and qualifications which have helped establish me in the business. In 2010 I entered the British Mountain Guides Scheme, I supported myself totally through the scheme. I qualified in 2014 as the 7th British woman to do so, and have been working as an International Mountain Guide based in the Alps ever since.
Why is challenge, exploration and leadership important to you as an individual?
Challenge exploration and adventure is very important to me, but I believe that it is important for everyone to develop as an individual. Taking on a new goal, facing up to the difficulties that you are bound to face on the path to achieving that goal, evaluating risks and taking those risks where you deem it appropriate are essential skills for achieving anything in life, whether that be an Army career, climbing a mountain or completing a journey through the wilderness.
Without having the skills and courage both mentally and physically to get out there and engage with life we may never realise or achieve our full potential and become the best individuals and leaders that society today desperately needs.
These opportunities and skills allow personal growth and are practical in everyday life. How to interact with others appropriately and constructively, understanding your impact on the psychology of others, being able to communicate effectively, being able to organise yourself and others, being able to evaluate courses of action and select an appropriate plan, being able to evaluate and take measured risks and manage the consequences, being able to operate in a stressful environment, to manage that stress, stay calm and act effectively, they develop determination and tenacity, timekeeping and discipline – key skills for life.
This is why I strongly believe in Adventure Training as a medium for training and opportunities it can provide to develop is vast, incredible and hugely rewarding. It has a powerfully positive effect on people and certainly can provide the skills useful in the Armed Forces but also for society in general.
What role do you play at Oxford UOTC and why is it important to give Officer Cadets the opportunity to go on expeditions and gain qualifications?
I help advise the Commanding Officer of my Unit on Adventure training helping to organise and plan Adventure Training within the unit. It is important for Officer cadets and soldiers for all the reasons listed above.
These adventures will be remembered for a very long time and they really can be life shaping. The soldiers and Officer Cadets understand what a valuable tool this can be and they are more prepared, when they are Officers or NCO’s to run such expeditions in the future or be prepared to release their soldiers so that others can gain from this training.
Tell us about the Norway Expedition, why you did it and how long was the planning, did the Army support you?
I had known about Norge Pa Langs for over 15 years and had wanted to do this journey myself for almost as long. The journey
is roughly translated from Norwegian as “Norway from end to end”. The journey is approximately 2500km extending from Lindesnes the most southerly tip of Norway to Nordkapp in the extreme north and I wanted to be the first British woman to complete it solo in a single winter. I decided to do it in 2018 because in 2017 I lost my father to brain cancer and I took some time to re-evaluate my life and basically make sure that I fulfilled some long-held dreams.
The Army did support me and actually someone in the RLC gave me 48 Norway ration packs which helped massively providing about half of the dehydrated meals that I needed to take with me. Follow the link for the full story:
Have you faced any challenges in your career because you are a women and if so how did you overcome them.
When I joined the Army not all jobs were open to women. I am a firm believer that if you are physically and mentally up to the standard you should be allowed to do it but this is not always the case and not everyone else believes this. I went to an all-girls school and was in an all-female platoon at Sandhurst but after that point I have worked in predominately male dominated environments. I have found that the best way to get on as a woman is to be as professional as possible and gently point out those cultural and hidden biases when they occur.
What does International Women’s day mean to you.
I only heard about it a few years ago but it seems to be a reason to celebrate and to be reminded of the incredible number of amazing women there are and have been through the centuries. Women are out there and doing amazing things in the world and have the intellectual capacity and the physical capacity to do whatever they set their minds to
What advice would you give to young women who want to join the Army now?
Be brave, be strong, look after your colleagues and your soldiers, be professional and have a sense of humour.
If you could give your 20 year old self any advice now what would it be?
- Believe in yourself and work hard to develop the skills to support that belief
- Decide what you want from life and commit to it
- Accept and embrace a far from standard life. Be prepared to make sacrifices
- Learn to love pushing yourself physically. Build a strong base so that you can safely sustain a physically demanding job
- Make your learning process efficient but don’t lose the enjoyment
- Surround yourself with enthusiastic and positive people who have similar goals and ambitions
- Powerful practice. What do you need to improve? Work hard to improve it!