Fiona McCade: Sisters in arms have got to be realistic

When my husband was in the Navy Reserves, he took part in a cross-country endurance exercise. Each man in the five-man team was carrying a heavy backpack and the whole squad had to make it back to base, within a strict time-frame, in order to complete the course

I use the word "man", but in fact one of the team was a woman. And she simply couldn't cope. So, rather than leave her sobbing in a field and have everyone fail the exercise, my husband carried both his own back-pack and hers, so they could all make it home in time to avoid disgrace.

Women may not be seen as the gentler sex any more, but when it comes to front-line battlefield teamwork, where sheer bodily strength is a factor, women will always be a weak link. This is not news to people in the services, nor is the uncomfortable truth that men instinctively treat women differently from how they treat each other.

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Yet every few years, the European Commission Equal Treatment Directive requires the UK to re-assess the policy that excludes female members of the armed forces from carrying out ground close-combat roles, where they may have to kill the enemy face-to-face. Yet again, after wasting lots of time and money, the Ministry of Defence has decided that the answer to the question, "do we want girls fighting on the infantry front line?" is "no".

The MoD has clearly stated that women's capability is "not in doubt - they win the highest decorations for valour and demonstrate independence and initiative", but to pre-empt the next costly and time-wasting Equal Treatment Directive, it's worth pointing out that when it comes to creating small, tightly-knit infantry squads whose sole purpose is hacking the enemy into tiny, little pieces, lasses are nobody's first-choice demographic.

Another perhaps unpalatable fact is that the men don't want the women there. The women aren't physically strong enough to pull their weight, and the men will instinctively waste valuable energy helping them. And whatever the European Commission might hope, in the name of "equality", this isn't going to change any time soon.

Fair enough, no professional female soldier is ever going to play the delicate-damsel card in battle, but horses for courses. I don't see why any woman would be offended by the status quo remaining. The MoD has clearly stated this is only about "those small teams who fix bayonets and grenades and charge into a bunker to kill the enemy".

Believe it or not, I considered a career in the military. I'm disciplined, logical, naturally vicious and I look good in khaki. I would have died in a ditch rather than ask a bloke to carry my heavy handbag, but even I can accept the brutal truth about my strength - I can hardly wrest the remote control away from Mr Me, never mind bring down all 17 stones of him in hand-to-hand combat.

Of course, in any other military role, I could make mincemeat of him. I'm a fantastic shot - as a sniper I could take him out before he got within a mile of me. I could strafe him from my fighter, or splat him with my perfectly aimed artillery bombardment. My gift for intelligence-gathering could stop him in his tracks before he even reached the battlefield. But in a fist-fight, I could never win and even worse, if I were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with him and he got wounded, could I drag his dead weight away from the fray and so save his life? No, I couldn't. But a man could, and that fact alone makes me more than happy to step well back, put all notions of so-called equality aside and say: "Off you go boys, and thanks for all you do."

I still think that I'd have made a great soldier, though. And a world-class general. But I'm female, and there's no shame in being honest about my physical limitations. Having said that, if I were storming a Taleban stronghold and I had to pick either David Cameron or Annabel Goldie to fight alongside me, I know which one I'd choose.