Meet the woman with one of the hardest jobs in Middle East

Maj.-Gen. Kristen Lund broke through glass ceilings to become UNTSO mission head and chief of staff.

Maj.-Gen. Kristen Lund in the UNTSO offices in Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Maj.-Gen. Kristen Lund in the UNTSO offices in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
It’s one of the toughest jobs in the Middle East, and it’s held by a woman from Norway who sees herself as a role model for young girls who dream of a career in the military.
Maj.-Gen Kristen Lund was appointed as the mission head and chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in late October, becoming the first woman to hold such a position.
“People always say, ‘Wow, you are a woman in the military!’” Lund told The Jerusalem Post during an interview at the UNTSO headquarters in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood. “Every girl needs a role model. There are young girls who hunger for that.”
Lund joined the Norwegian Army in 1979. She has since broken dozens of glass ceilings in the country’s military and in 2009 became the first female major-general in the Norwegian Army. Along the way, she held the position of deputy commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces Command and chief of staff of the Norwegian Home Guard.
“As women, we have a tendency to think traditionally, to think more often with our hearts than our heads. So I thought to think differently, to think two steps ahead and to think what kind of experience I need to get the job,” she said.
Her previous assignments with the UN included deployment to Lebanon as part of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) in 1986; to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1991; and at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004.
“As a woman in uniform, I have access to 100% of the people. Men only have access to half of that,” Lund said, explaining that it is important to have female officers operating in countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.
“Norway has realized that 50% of those affected by conflict are women. You do not and cannot solve conflict without women,” she said, adding that during her deployments abroad she has always tried to get more women involved.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Force Commander in a UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.
UNTSO’s military observers have been in Israel since the end of the War of Independence in 1948, monitoring the two cease-fire agreements Israel has with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
“Every side is trying to fulfill their mandate. They are tired of conflict,” Lund said. “If you want a sustainable peace you need to support women. It’s all about empowering women... they are an untapped resource that we can use.”
Norway is one of just a few countries, along with Israel, that has compulsory military service for women.  While women in Norway have been able to volunteer for military service for some 40 years, it took the defense establishment a while to understand the positives of having a draft for women.
“With equal opportunity comes equal responsibility,” the major-general said.
While the 59-year-old never married and or had children, she said that was a choice which she doesn’t regret.
“Since I didn’t have children, I could jump onto assignments that others didn’t want to take,” Lund said, adding that she never looks back as to what could have been.
“Most likely I wouldn’t be sitting here if I had children,” she said. “But I know now that as a female going through several glass ceilings, I know it is possible. Women with children can get where I am.”