Brigadier General Christine Chaulieu
Christine Chaulieu became a French Army Brigadier General on 19th July 2016, the first active female soldier in the Army to be appointed to this rank for 26 years and only the fourth to attain such a rank in the history of the French Army¹.
A few months ago I met with this discreet, sporty and charming woman, promoted after 34 years of a career in intelligence and international relations, who last September was appointed France's Deputy Military Representative to the European Union Military Committee, so she's now based in Brussels. A little ill at ease at the attention she is drawing, she nevertheless agreed to talk more publicly to show young women who might be tempted by an Army career that there is a place for them and that they can rise through the ranks.
The daughter of a military father, Chaulieu did not intend to follow in her father’s footsteps at all. After graduating with a Master’s degree in applied foreign languages (German and English) in Germany, her thirst for adventure led her to the Bahamas where she worked for three years as a flight attendant for Air Bahamas. But the lack of career prospects, “pursar was about the upper limit," she laughs, brought her back to France, and she says that she eventually decided a military career could offer her the mobility, advancement prospects and sports opportunities she was seeking.
In 1982, the Special Military School of Saint-Cyr and the École Militaire InterArmes in Coëtquidan were still closed to women, so she tried her luck in the neighbouring school, the military school of the technical and administrative corps². After this year of schooling she chose the General Staff as her specialty subject, so went to the EAM of Montpellier for a one-year training course. She moved up the ranks, notably by becoming France’s first female defence attaché when she was appointed to this post in Denmark in 2005 and then again in Austria in 2013 where she was not only the defence attaché but also the non-resident defence attaché for Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. This was her third assignment abroad. During her first, in Germany, freshly graduated from the EAM, she met her husband, also a French soldier. A few months after their marriage he was sent to Berlin but she had to stay behind in Baden-Baden as a second lieutenant in the 20th Transport Regiment. “We had to travel 800 km to see each other,” she recalls, “and during the Cold War it was not easy to cross East Germany to go to West Berlin.”
Like her male companions, Chaulieu climbed the ladder, passing the competitive exams one by one. Promoted to Captain in 1990 and transferred to the Directorate of Military Intelligence in Creil from 1993 to 1996, she was head of the activity section at the intelligence coordination centre. But even 15 years into her career she was still asked by a male colleague at the beginning of her studies at the Joint Defence College (now the War College) in 1997 “if I had passed the same entrance exam as him!” she exclaims.
The main difficulty of her career has been to reconcile her professional with her personal life. Her parents were very helpful in babysitting her daughter, but she still had to pay “very high child-care costs.” Like many of her male counterparts, she also found herself a geographical bachelor from time to time. Despite these few difficulties, her military career and 13 different assignments have “fully met my expectations.”
¹ Brigadier General Andrée Tourne was appointed on 1/12/1988, the same day as Louise Coppolani (of the corps of commissionaires which at that time belonged to the Army and who was appointed Major General on 1/08/1991). Brigadier General Anne-Marie Meunier was appointed on 1/09/1990.
² Founded in 1977, the EMCTA closed in August 2010 when it was merged with the EMSAM (Military College for Administration and Management) in Montpellier to create a new school: EAM (School of Military Administration) which, itself, closed in 2013.