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Breastfeeding mother of 2 mans big guns in all-out offensive vs BIFF

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—She was forced to stop breastfeeding her second baby because her job obviously would not allow her to bring her infant along.

But Capt. Joan Pacudan, who as a battery commander in the 6th Field Artillery Battalion (FAB) helps direct the field artillery that provides the fire support in a combined military operation, said she had no regrets about leaving her two daughters to carry out a mission: to restore peace in conflict zones.

“It’s sad to be away from my children but I am happy knowing that the internally displaced civilians were able to return to their homes,” said Pacudan, whose unit is involved in the current military offensive against the Moro insurgent group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pikit, North Cotabato, last month and in Maguindanao now.

In the Pikit operation, more than a dozen BIFF gunmen were killed “mostly from artillery fire” and majority of the 20,000 displaced residents have since returned home, the military said.

Pacudan, who delivered her second baby late last year, had just ended her maternity leave when Armed Forces Chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. declared an all-out offensive against the BIFF in late February.

She had to leave her daughters in the care of a nanny and took up her assignment in the campaign to subdue the BIFF.

Very important job

Lt. Col. Ray Claudio Abaya, the battalion commander of the 6th FAB, said Pacudan’s job as artillery commander was very important for operating troops because the targets were open field, near marshy areas, or surrounded by running trenches and barricades.

“It was difficult for the ground troops to assault the BIFF positions since they enjoyed a vantage position,” he said.

“It was a challenge for Joan to make sure the artillery rounds would fall exactly on their (BIFF) positions,” Abaya said.

Because of the artillery support given by Pacudan, the BIFF was “caught by surprise and were forced to leave their vantage position after suffering heavy casualties,” Abaya said.

“The government troops maintained their offensive posture due to the responsive and accurate artillery fire support that covered their advance,” he said.

With all the difficulties attendant to a mother in her position, Pacudan never complained, he said.

Pacudan said she has not been sleeping well for more than a week now as government troops continue to pursue the BIFF in Maguindanao, particularly in the so-called Reina Regente complex.

“We’ve been moving from one fire base to another and I’m just sleeping on a hammock slung between the trees, together with my troops,” she said.

Late last year, Pacudan was awarded the Bronze Cross Medal by the Regiment Commander of Army Artillery Brig. Gen. Leandro Loyao III for acts of heroism involving risks of life.

Women troops

Loyao, now based in Fort Ramon Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, said in a statement that the artillery regiment “always considers the importance of the equal and full participation in decision-making, peace-building and peacekeeping; maintenance and promotion of peace and security” of women soldiers.

“We have four female officers designated as battery commanders, one is in Luzon, one in the Visayas and two in Mindanao. There are also other junior and field-grade female officers performing battalion and regiment staff duties, with enlisted women providing backup in clerical and administrative tasks,” Loyao said.

When not engaged in war duties, the women in the artillery units are kept busy with various civil-military and humanitarian activities, he said.

From teacher to soldier

Pacudan, 34, is a Mindanao-born former teacher, according to Maj. Rosa Ma. Cristina Manuel, the public information officer of the artillery regiment based in Nueva Ecija.

She left teaching and joined the Armed Forces in 2004 through the Officers Candidate School, completing the Officer’s Preparatory Course Class 49.

Pacudan married a classmate of Class 49, who is also a military officer, Manuel said.

After graduation, Pacudan was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division in the Bicol Region as chief of the pension, gratuity and assistance office until 2006. She became deputy assistant of the chief of staff for personnel in the region, eventually becoming a battery commander in the 6th FAB.

Abaya said that despite being a woman, Pacudan is every bit the commander.

“Wait until you hear this lady command the cannons during fire missions. She would do this with authority and she would growl on top of her voice sending shivers to her troops. She always hits the target earning praises and accolades from the unit commander,” he said.

Source: Allan Nawal - Inquirer.net

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