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Mexicans jump off a plane for gender equality

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
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Mexico trains women as paratroopers
  • A group of women is training to be paratroopers in Mexico
  • It's the first time in 22 years
  • Training for men and women is the same

(CNN) -- It's early in the morning, but the soldiers in their camouflage uniforms have already been awake for several hours. They're getting their gear ready, making sure all of their safety equipment, hooks, belts, and straps are in working order. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, until you take a closer look. Among the 270 recruits getting their basic paratrooper training, there are 71 women.

After a 50-minute check-up, they all board military planes that will take off from the Santa Lucia Military Air Base near Mexico City.

This is the first time in 22 years that women in the Mexican armed forces are being trained as paratroopers. The program was suspended in 1989 for unspecified reasons. Now it's back again, but officials haven't said if it will instituted permanently.

Once they reach an altitude of 1,500 feet, it's time to jump and put into practice the four weeks of training they have received. It's a small jump for these women soldiers, but one giant leap for the Mexican military.

Corporal Raquel Gutierrez is among the first women who signed up for paratrooper training. "I think this is an activity that only a few can do. We are a group of women who have decided to enter a space previously reserved for men," Gutierrez says.

For the Mexican military, training women as paratroopers means more personnel at the ready; many in Mexico also see this training as an important step towards gender equality.

Basic paratrooper training in the Mexican military takes four weeks. Trainees have the opportunity to jump off a plane five times.

For Corporal Norma Flores being part of this training is one of the most exciting things she's done in her life. "It's a very beautiful experience and, honestly, I'm very proud. I want to learn a lot of things here in the Army and, well, it's a good opportunity to serve our country," Flores says.

Army officials say the training that these women are going through is exactly the same men take. There's no special treatment or relaxing of the rules. The goal is that paratroopers are equally trained, capable, and safe, regardless of their gender.

Colonel Bernardino Olvera, who's in charge of this phase of paratrooper training, says safety and preparedness are paramount. "We can't make any distinctions [between men and women] because there are no parachutes for men or women. Training has to be the same," Olvera says.

First Sergeant Miriam Rivera says that, after all, the fear you feel right before jumping off the plane has no gender. "It's true that you always have some fear, but with the training that we have received during the whole month we learn to change fear for an adrenaline rush in order to jump off the plane," Rivera says.

Once the training is over, the seven female officers and 64 soldiers will return to their normal duties. the Mexican Army has yet to establish the option of being a paratrooper as a career choice for women entering the forces, a limitation that based on this training may be about to change.