Female engagement team builds bridges into Afghan society

Monday, October 25, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition service members are reaching out to an entire half of Helmand provinces population by employing a team of women to bridge gender gaps.

In Afghans culture, a woman’s modesty is closely guarded by everyone. But, the female engagement teams in Helmand province are specially-trained and able to reach across those boundaries. They can go where male coalition service members often cannot. “Afghanistan’s society is much more conservative [than that of the United States] when it comes to women,” said Marine 1st Lt. Quincy Washa, FET platoon commander for Regimental Combat Team-1. “Very rarely are they allowed to go outside the compounds without a male escort, so it’s imperative that we get the female Marines to go to them.”

The team is responsible for engaging with local Afghans to help promote security, governance and development. They gather information regarding the community’s needs, and foster communication between U.S. and Afghan forces while respecting local customs. This strategy has proven effective, explained Washa. “The Afghan men have responded very well to our presence here, and they appreciate what we do,” said Washa, 25. “The Afghan women are very excited to see American females out here and to have someone to voice their concerns too.” Lt. Col. John Carson, the officer in charge of the RCT-1 Effects Cell, said the FET is invaluable to the unit.

As the lead supervisor of the effects cell, Carson oversees coordination of all RCT-1 noncombat operations, which encompass the FET and civil affairs group, among other subsections. The FET provides information that can be used across the spectrum of operations, he said. “The information they’ve collected has ... led to the capture or detention of several terrorists in the area,” Carson said. “It has greatly increased the Marines’ situational awareness during patrols, and it has given us a better overall sense of the atmospherics in our area of operations. Our battalions value the FET’s input and are eager to partner with them during day-to-day operations.”

The FET’s mission isn’t limited to interactions in the villages. Their duties call them to perform many of the same duties any coalition service member would have to perform, including security for their own missions. “They definitely have a willingness to complete the mission and they really want to be here,” Washa said. “They have a lot of motivation. This is a great job and a great way for them to get outside their [military occupational specialty] and do something different.”

This current FET arrived in southern Afghanistan in September, and is scheduled to remain through early next year. “Even though we have been here just a month, it’s been great success,” Washa said. “You can definitely see that we’re making a difference here, which is a great feeling, and I can only hope that it gets better throughout the rest of the deployment.


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