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Interview with Flight Lieutenant Leanne Martin

Leanne Martin is the RAF’s First Woman to become Improvised Explosive Device Disposal qualified. Physically and mentally demanding, Leanne’s expertise lies in dealing with potentially explosive devices within the context of international terrorist organizations and criminal gangs. So, what is it that keeps her connected to normality during her extraordinary day job?

Stay grounded

What’s the strangest thing I’ve ever thought before walking towards a potentially hazardous item? ‘What shall I have for dinner?’ It helps me stay connected to the norm. And that helps.

Being courageous is a lot about breathing (and not hanging about before you make a decision)

I have a problem with heights. I can climb up, but the coming down…Breathing deeply helps but if I don’t move within a few seconds I won’t do it. I also remind myself that if I have seen lots of other people, jump off that thing safely – why should it be any different for me?’

Research your aspirations

If something you want to do has never been done by someone like you, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it! I think the perception that my job ‘wasn’t a woman’s job’ is what led to it taking so long for a woman to do it. I suppose that if you haven’t ever seen a female in a certain role it’s easy to assume that it’s not open to them. My role also required engineer training. Again, there’s an assumption that that’s a man’s thing – that it’s all about fixing cars and getting your hands dirty. In actual fact, it has a lot to do with project managing!

Figure out why you’re striving for something

If you don’t come up with some good answers, then maybe you’re in the wrong field. Challenges – though hard – can make you certain about your goals.

Most jobs we assume are gender-driven are actually just personality driven

I am a determined person and I needed that determination – not to be offered the role, but to be good at it. The bomb suits I wear are exactly the same weight as those that the men wear. I am quite short and I struggled. I asked myself repeatedly ‘is this really what I want to do?!’ I don’t like to be seen as lesser or weaker and I was frustrated at being slower than the men. My perseverance got me through.

Use whatever you can to inspire you

Before I do anything scary or challenging, I listen to the song ‘Proud’ by Heather Small. Before every six-month fitness test. Before any difficult task. There’s something about it that steadies my nerves.

Don’t be defeated – adapt

My physics teacher was an inspiration on this. She had been invalided out of the army. But despite the unhappy circumstances surrounding her departure, she still uses her experiences – just in a different way – to teach others.

If we don’t celebrate what we’ve done, how will other women know what’s possible?

I don’t ‘show off’ about what I have accomplished but what I have achieved can be a useful way of presenting to other women what’s possible.

Every time someone with more experience corrects you, it’s a chance to gain more skills.

Men can learn patience from women

…And that not everything falls into place straight away. Women could learn to have the confidence of their convictions from men. Being wrong should never knock you back.

Interview by Deborah Willimott

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