Female PLA operators link Rocket Force

By Chen Boyuan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 16, 2017
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Jin Qiao, commander of No. 4 Company [File photo provided to China.org.cn]
Jin Qiao, commander of No. 4 Company [File photo provided to China.org.cn]

The All-China Women's Federation presented its annual National March 8 Red-Banner Collective award on March 8, International Women's Day, to the No. 2 Battalion of the PLA 96618 Unit, a communication regiment in the Rocket Force.

The award reflected the country's recognition of the achievements made by the all-women battalion, whose efforts had contributed to the high combativeness and readiness of the PLA's strategic missile force.

Although in the Rocket Force, these young female operators don't have the opportunity to witness the splendor when a ballistic missile blasts off; instead, they work in the Rocket Force's principal call center passing through calls between senior officers. Their adroitness is key to military efficiency.

The military's demand for confidentiality forbids an online directory of internal phone numbers, let alone those for high-ranking officers. Having an operator pass through calls still remains the most secure way, and paradoxically, the quickest way for getting through.

To meet their work's demand, operators must train what they call "four essential skills" – listening ability, brain power, typing speed and vocal enunciation, said Captain Jin Qiao, commander of No. 4 Company of the battalion; she moved up to her current post from an ordinary operator in the battalion.

She said that an operator is required to identify accurately what a caller says, even though the caller may have a strong accent or mistakenly let slip some erroneous information. "To improve our efficiency, we must remember the voices of dozens of senior leaders," said Jin. "Sometimes, we operators can recognize a senior commander right after he says hello."

"As long as we know who is calling, we can basically figure out the range of contacts he is trying to reach," she said.

An operator is required to memorize more than 2,000 telephone numbers to fasten the connection and to ensure reliability in case the computer system crashes.

Captain Li Xiaomi, now political instructor of No. 4 Company of the battalion, spent more than one month memorizing these many essential numbers when she joined the military.

"It's not uncommon for new operators to sleep talk about reciting telephone numbers," she said.

As for typing speed, the lower limit is 110 Chinese characters per minute, but most young female soldiers at the No. 2 Battalion can do more than 200. Jin holds the battalion's record of 243 characters; her typing speed even made computer freeze once, her fellow soldiers said.

Lastly, operators must speak clearly, smoothly and accent-free. According to Jin, operators are capable of assuming a completely different voice while on duty, yet most operators' working voices do sound similar.

"Many people may see female soldiers as vases, pretty but not so useful, as all they do each day is transfer phone calls. Seldom are they aware that these female operators connect the whole military's command and control, like the nerve system in our bodies," said Senior Colonel Ran Xiaofang, a senior engineer at the Rocket Force network control center.

Since Ran was enlisted more than three decades ago, the equipment has been upgraded a handful of times. "In my era, we did 'plugs and pulls' and today these young women operate on computers," said Sr. Col. Ran. "But what remains unchanged is the efficiency of female operators, along with their pursuit for such efficiency," she added.

Due to the military's nature of confidentiality, the communication battalion do not communicate with foreign militaries to exchange ideas for improvement. Ran said she was once very interested in knowing "how others were doing what we were doing". She went to search information, but her efforts ended fruitless.

The next wave of China's military reform will touch upon what is called "all parts below the neck," implying its exhaustiveness. While many fear they will become the part of the disarmament of up to 300,000 people, the communication battalion remains calm.

"However the reform unfolds, we will always obey orders and do our job; that's a soldier's duty;" said Ran. "I am sure our operators will ensure full combat capability as long as they are in service."

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