The Royal Military School (RMS), the Belgian counterpart of France’s Saint-Cyr or Great Britain’s Sandhurst, now has a woman at its head. Appointed on 18 May, Air Vice Marshal Lutgardis Claes is the first woman to occupy this post at the institution founded in 1834 on the model of France’s military engineering school Polytechnique. This is an historic appointment for the Belgian Army and an extremely rare occurrence for any military academy.
“The RMS must ensure that young officers are followed up and continue to train them according to the evolutions of our society,” said the new commander at the hand-over ceremony, adding that the 850 pupils under her command “must live in their epoch and take into account technology and innovation as well as the necessary tools that our institution must provide them with in order to make them strong in the future.”
Claes was admitted to the RMS in 1978, the first year it was open to women. She is only the second woman to be promoted to the rank of general officer in the Belgian Defence, five years after pharmacist-by-training Major General Danielle Levillez. After training as a civil engineer, Air Vice Marshal Claes occupied different positions in the Air Component and the Defence Staff before joining the Belgian delegation to the United Nations in New York in 2013 as a military attaché.
At present, women represent only 8% of the total number of candidates for a military career in Belgium, with great disparities according to rank: 21% among officer candidates, but only 4% for the rank and file. A gulf that Defence wants to fill in the years to come, despite the complete absence of the words “woman”, “feminine” or “feminisation” among the 68,000 words of the “Strategic Vision” of Belgian Defence Minister Steven Vandeput!
General Lutgardis Claes (right) takes the reins of the Belgian “Saint-Cyr” (Photo credit: La Défense / Jurgen Braekevelt & Malek Azoug)