According to official statistics, there were nearly 50,000 women serving in Russia’s armed forces as of the end of 2012, and there were almost the same numbers in civilian support roles. Yet there were no tank girls among them until training began in Russia’s Far East Amur Region for two female tank crews.

The female crews were formed within the Amur motorized infantry battalions, following an announcement from the Ministry of Defense that stated tank biathlon events would be held annually in the future and would include both male and female crews.

Over the next six months, the six tank girls will master the controls of these combat vehicles and go on to compete in next year’s biathlon.

“Experience has proven that the experiment with tank biathlons for male crews has yielded great results. Everyone liked it, and now we’ve decided to follow through on the idea for female crews, as well. We’ve received the go-ahead to train a crew for the T-72 tank from among the ranks of female troops. But I made the decision to train two crews — to leverage a spirit of competition between the two crews,” the lieutenant commander of the Amur motorized infantry of the Russian armed forces said.

“Before beginning field training, the girls were getting physically prepared in the gym. The requirements and training cycles are identical for both male and female crews, but the girls shape up faster,” says Cmdr. Pyotr Dvoretsky.

“Our girls really get into it; they clap their hands when they get it right, they’re so delighted! They really love it, and want to do it again and again, and want to show their skills over the whole firing range,” the platoon commander says.

The preliminary field maneuvers for the tank girls were held at the motorized infantry’s range, at Yekaterinoslavka in Oktyabrsky District. The girls became acquainted with the armored vehicles and learned how to drive the tanks, aim the gun correctly and fire missiles.

“This is the first time we’ve had women in the crews,” says Vassily Mushlanov. “But if the experiment goes well, we'll be training them for roles as tank commanders and driver-mechanics.”

A tank crew has three members: a commander, a driver and a gunner. All the trainees undergo exercises during which they learn each of the crewmember’s roles. They have to be able to get to their battle stations in less than 11 seconds — army regulations.

On their second try, the girls struggled to make it into their armored vehicle, so they need to work on their speed. Priming the cannons took real effort; heaving a 53-pound shell aboard the tank is, so far, more than the girls can manage without a little male assistance.

The commander of the tank battalion, Dmitry Usik, says that the men of his battalion treat the training of female crews seriously and responsibly.

“Armored vehicles don’t like weaklings. Women are the weaker sex, so we have to help them, at first. It’s not easy to jump into a tank, take up battle positions and batten the hatches. We show them how to do it faster and better. I’m pretty sure our girls are going to teach the competitors a thing or two!” Cmdr. Usik says.

Once they complete their training, the tank girls will gain the rank of Specialized Instructor-Mechanic in Tank Warfare. After their exams, the best crew will go on to firing range training in the Tank Trainee Corps of Khabarovsk Region. Then things will heat up in competition for the rank of Best Tank Crew in the country.