Archive for December 9, 2010
Woman 2 Woman
The U.S. Marines – the people who pioneered doctrines like close air support and amphibious warfare – have another good idea: Female Engagement Teams.
That’s what they call female Marines and other servicewomen (see below) who accompany patrols and try to make connections with Afghan women, to learn their needs, the needs of their village – and maybe pick up some valuable intel about strangers in the area.
The idea is to leverage the influence that Afghan women have in the home and in the village – in a culturally sensitive way. It is a taboo in Afghan culture for women to even speak with strange men. That makes it impossible for male Marines to search, question or provide care for Afghan women.
Enter the Female Engagement Teams.
The concept, which grew out of the Marines’ Lioness program in Iraq, has been so successful in Afghanistan – there are now 40 teams – that it has been adopted by the U.S. Army and other nations’ militaries.
“The demand far outweighs the supply that we have,” says Army Col. Chadwick Clark, commander of the Counter Insurgency Training Center at NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. And that’s why the U.S. military is looking to standardize and expand training for FET members, he says.
Right now, FET members — who are all volunteers — come from different specialties, like mechanic, clerk, driver, military police and medic. “They go through varying degrees of training, depending on how they’re going to be employed,” says Clark.
For example, the Marines that are deployed in Helmand Province go through four months of training that includes combat skills. They also take classes on Pashtu culture and language, techniques for engaging the locals, observation techniques, tactical questioning, personnel searches and planning engagements.
“They do have to be able to move, shoot and communicate while they’re out there [in the field], so there is some physical abilities that they have to have to do the job,’ says Marine Corps Col. Sheila Scanlon, an advisor to the Afghan Interior Ministry who joined Clark on a conference call from Afghanistan with bloggers.
While not strictly combat troops, members of the FETs are armed and have to be ready to support fellow Marines if attacked. “Every time we leave our camp, we’re in the combat zone, and even in our camp we’re in the combat zone. So the women are in a support role down there [in Helmand] supporting the infantry, but that doesn’t mean that they’re out there on the line in an offensive nature,” Scanlan says.
Other FETs that are partnering with women in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National at hospitals in Bagram. The U.S. women go through a seven-day course taught by the civil affairs and human-terrain team in Bagram.
Female Navy hospital corpsman serve as medicos with the FETs. There are also Army FETs. Jordanian forces have two FETs of their own. The Swedes and Norwegians have one each.
Although most of the Afghan women they will be dealing with are wives and mothers, there’s no push to recruit women who are married or have children as team members. “We don’t discriminate,” says Scanlon. “They come in all shapes and sizes – married, divorced, single, single parents. We take anybody as they are, as long as they can do the job.”
Part of that job requires “good social intelligence,” Clark adds. “So that you’re able to read people and understand what the meaning is, that you have empathy, so when somebody’s talking to you, that you can understand their feelings.”
He said standardized training is expected to start in January. Marines currently serve in the FETs for seven months. Soldiers in the FETs serve for a year.
UPDATE: Getty Images has some really nice photos of one of the Female Engagement Teams you can see it at MSNBC.