The only woman in her family to join the ranks of the military, Capt Reem Al Buainain says she was inspired to enlist by her father.
When she was a child, he was a colonel in the army, one of the Armed Forces' most senior ranks. His pristine uniform always left her wide-eyed.
“I was in awe of him. I loved how he looked in his uniform but I never thought I would have the chance to one day wear it, but here I am,” she tells The National.
“My father always used to talk to me about the army and I have many uncles who were in the military, too. So, that’s where the interest to join came from.
“I chose to fight side by side with men and I worked hard to achieve it.”
The 31-year-old mother of three started her military training at 21 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in information technology from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
By the age of 23 she achieved one of her “proudest moments in life” by becoming a uniformed military officer, earning the rank of second lieutenant.
Women achievers in the UAE
“I thought back to my early stages of training and some of my toughest challenges, like holding a gun for the first time and enduring the physical training regimes,” she says.
“But getting that rank at the end made it all worth it.
“My goal is to become a colonel like my father or more than that, maybe. I’m one of four siblings and I’m the only girl.
"One day my father said to me ‘Reem made my dreams came true’. That was special to hear.”
Working a structured day, from 7am to 2pm, or shift work during training phases, Capt Al Buainain specialises in computer science and technology, working on different programming projects for the military.
In 2018, about 10 years after first embarking on her training, she was picked to attend Nato School, a prestigious training and education centre for military personnel.
She was the first female officer from the UAE and the GCC to join the two-week training course in Germany, another milestone that made her proud to represent her roots.
“I remember military personnel from other countries being shocked to see me there,” she says.
“It was very male-dominated and I think they had this perception that women from my part of the world couldn’t do something like that or have opportunities like them.
“They asked so many questions and were amazed to hear the things I had done.
“My advice to any woman is to believe in yourself. Whether you’re a housewife or a working woman, you will always be empowered in the UAE and you will play a strong role in society.”
For Zaina Rashed Al Dhaheri, 25, her father and older sister inspired her move into the military.
She says her mind was made up after watching her sister pass out at an all-woman parade during her final year of high school.
“I knew it was going to be tough, but when I saw my older sister I was so motivated by how she looked in her uniform,” she says.
“She had transitioned from civilian to military personnel and I was so proud of her. She was powerful in my eyes.”
After graduating from high school, First Lt Al Dhaheri went straight into intense military training for four months, then enrolled at Abu Dhabi University to study chemical engineering.
She says the military path was always on her radar but she wanted to "enter the forces with a specialisation".
Four years later, with a degree in tow, she resumed her military training for one year and now works in the chemical defence unit.
“I now head the environment section of the unit. I started as a lieutenant but now hold the rank of first lieutenant officer,” she said.
“I’ve always strived to be the best, and during two of my training programmes I came top in my class – against all the men.
“I am the first officer of my age to compete side by side with male officers in that specialisation and work with them at a senior level.
“At university no one knew I wanted to join the military but when I graduated I told everyone. They were shocked but so happy and supportive, I guess because I never mentioned it before.”
Celebrating Emirati Women’s Day on Saturday, she said her advice to others was simple: “The first success is to work with conscience and have positive energy. Just strive for excellence.”