A YOUNG soldier has spoken out about her experience signing up for the Army in a bid to encourage more women to join the Armed Forces.

Abi Rowan, 20, from Hoole in Chester, says she hasn’t looked back since walking into the recruitment office in the city centre in March last year.

“It was daunting at first but everyone has been brilliant,” she said.

“They’re like a family to me now – we all look out for each other.”

Both she and Staff Sergeant Shane Byrne, an Army careers advisor, said it was important to change people’s preconceptions about women in the forces.

“It’s about changing the mindsets of ‘gatekeepers’ like parents and teachers – so it’s not considered unusual for females to consider a career in the Army,” said Shane.

“It's not the same as it was 50 years ago.”

A ban on women serving in close combat frontline roles was lifted by former Prime Minister David Cameron in November last year.

The move came after the Ministry of Defence conducted a two-year review examining whether women would be able to meet the physical requirements of serving in units such as the infantry and tanks.

It found that there was no evidence they would not be able to cope.

Women will soon be able to serve in all areas of the armed forces, including the infantry, air force, marines and some special forces.

Currently only nine per cent of Army personnel are female. So far in 2017/18 just 12 of 111 candidates dealt with by the Chester recruitment office have been women. In the previous year it was 12 out of 121.

Describing her whirlwind year since she began training on October 17 2016, Abi said she had completed her 14 weeks initial training before passing out on February 2.

“It was tough but it felt good to get through it,” she said. “Everyone was in the same boat.”

Having originally wanted to become a combat medic, she changed her mind and decided to join the Royal Signals as a communications engineer.

She headed to the regiment's base in Blandford, Dorset, where she has been undergoing intensive training, both in the classroom and field, proving that a career in the Army is more than bombs and bullets.

If she stays on track, Abi could soon become a junior commander with leadership responsibilities and a salary starting at £25,000 while studying for her Advanced Apprenticeship.

Having spent four years with the cadets at Abbots Park, off Liverpool Road, she always knew she wanted to be in the Army.

“My mum and sister weren't at all surprised when I told them I wanted to join,” said Abi. “They always knew this was what I wanted to do.

“They would be worried if I was posted to an operational theatre – combat zone – of course they would, but they know I’ve had the best training possible.”

Asked what advice she would give other young women thinking of a career in the Armed Forces, Abi said: “Go for it! If you get in and aren't really feeling it you can still leave but I'm sure once you get there you won't want to.”