The Italian Almanac

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italian female soldiers

Guard Duties

A platoon of women soldiers took over guard duties at Italy's presidential palace for the first time. ''I'm so thrilled,'' said Corporal Stella Costantini after she and 50 young comrades broke down another bastion of male dominance. ''People are saying it's historic. It's certainly a great honour,'' she added.

Taking over from a male navy unit, the volunteers from the Piceno Regiment about-turned, spun their rifles and stood to attention as if they'd been doing it for years. The world's media flocked to film the historic event and tourists made the steep climb up the Quirinal Hill to capture the moment. The girls' families happily snapped away and applauded after the five-minute show was over.

Stella, a 20-year-old from Rome, has been in the army for just two months and has yet to finish boot camp. But after a few weeks of practice her unit was picked to represent the thousands of women who have joined the Italian military since it became an equal-opportunity employer in 2000.

The Italian army, air force and navy have taken it in turns to guard the Quirinal Palace since the popes left the building after Italian unification.