Sapper Nomonde Nomtsheke (28) has become the first woman to qualify as a paratrooper in the South African Engineer Corps, a division of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
A paratrooper is a military parachutist who is trained to parachute during military operations and functions as part of an airborne force.
Nomtsheke, who is part of the School of Engineers, says being a paratrooper is a dream come true for her. The School of Engineers is part of the South African Army Engineer Formation, which provides combat engineering corps training and teaching to military officers and personnel throughout the SANDF. The school is based in Kroonstad, Free State.
“When you join the SANDF, you see many things you would like to do. Being a paratrooper was one of those for me because they test your fitness level, both physically and mentally, and your perseverance as a human being.”
Born in Mangaung, Free State, Nomtsheke was not initially interested in joining the SANDF, but wanted to become a soccer player after matric.
However, in 2016, when the opportunity arose to be part of the SANDF, she applied.
“For me, it was more about securing employment and being able to provide for my family. Unfortunately, by the time I received a callback I was in Taiwan for the World Student Games.”
When the opportunity arose again in 2020, she grabbed it with both hands.
“It is very rare to get the same opportunity twice.
I grabbed the opportunity and made the best of it. Military training is not a walk in the park, since you experience late nights and early mornings, but I wanted to give it my best shot.”
By the end of the gruelling nine-month basic military training at the SA Army Infantry School in Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, Nomtsheke’s determination paid off as she was named the best practical learner and best overall learner.
She proceeded to 2 Field Engineer Regiment in Bethlehem, where she underwent her SA Army Engineer Corps Training at the Junior Training Branch. This year, Nomtsheke applied for the paratrooper selection process at 44 Parachute Regiment in Bloemfontein, where she was afforded the golden opportunity to undergo the paratrooper course.
The paratrooper course comprises two phases. The first one is the Basic Static Line Course, a first jumping course that qualifies one to become a paratrooper in which a round parachute is used, and the second one is called Advanced Static Line, which qualifies one to be a fully-fledged paratrooper.
“Being part of the airborne family means I mainly work with the aircraft and the parachute. It is such an exhilarating experience. In the beginning, I used to get scared because it was risky, but I am now confident in my quality of training and I know that our instructors and colleagues take all the necessary precautions.”
The General Officer Commanding SA Army Engineer Formation, Brigadier General Charles Buyse, says Nomtsheke is the first female army engeneer to qualify as a paratrooper. She congratulated Nomtsheke following her achievement, which raised the Engineer Formation flag very high.
Women in the defence force
Nomtsheke says being the first in her field is indicative to young girls that anything is attainable if one puts their mind to it.
“It is very important that we have a significant number of women in the defence force, because right now it is dominated by men. The female touch is needed almost everywhere as women bring many good leadership skills. What is needed is support and room for them to prove themselves.”
Her message to women reaching for their dreams is: “Follow your heart. Be bold and trust yourself.”