Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SEMPER FI Ladies - Female Marines make a difference when troops need to deal with the female citizens of Afghanistan

Enclosed is a selection from the photo essay by Getty Images photojournalist Paula Bronstein. Photographed last month, the images depict the women deployed as the second Female Engagement team in Afghanistan. Female Marines gain access where men cannot and train for any possible situation, including learning Afghan customs and basic Pashtun language...

These intrepid female warriors are assigned to the FET (Female Engagement Team) 1st Battalion 8th Marines, Regimental Combat team II - Pics were taken at their forward operating base on November 17, 2010 in Musa Qala, Afghanistan.

The 48 women in the US Army’s Female Engagement Team help with non-military operations such as medical visits and educational programmes. The recruits have been taught Afghan customs and have learned the language so they find it easier to earn people’s trust.

Weeks into a seven-month deployment that has sent them in twos and threes to 16 outposts across Helmand, including Marjah and other spots where fighting continues, the women have encountered resistance: some from Afghan women and some from male Marines and U.S. commanders skeptical about the teams' purpose.

The women are taking it in stride. "If it were easy, it wouldn't be interesting," they said.

No one disagrees that the teams have potential and that female Marines are needed, especially at medical clinics, as part of the counterinsurgency campaign. As the officers say, you can't swing the population to your side if you talk to only half of it.

But interviews and foot patrols with Marines during two recent weeks in Helmand show that the teams, which have gained access to some of the most isolated women in the world, remain a work in progress.

One trip in early May to offer medical care to Afghan women in the village of Lakari showed the program's promise, problems and dangers. The trip was delayed because of reports that the Taliban had put a bomb in the intended clinic building; although nothing was found, the Marines moved to another place.

Building trust

Gardner, a helicopter mechanic who was working with the Marines from Pendleton but had not trained with them, found herself as the lone woman dealing with five ailing Afghan women. There was no female interpreter or medical officer — there are chronic shortages of both — and the Afghans refused to leave their compound or let the male interpreter and medical officer come to them. Gardner devised a solution.

"Some of these women would rather die than be touched by a male," she said. "So, we'll diagnose by proxy."

By the end of the day, an Afghan woman was trusting enough to hand her baby to Gardner to take to the medical officer, who diagnosed digestive problems from a diet of sheep and goat milk.

She took the women's vital signs herself. Then she had an older Afghan woman come outside with her to describe the women's symptoms, chiefly headaches and stomachaches, to the male interpreter. He translated for the American male medical officer. (The American men were partly obscured from the older woman by a mud wall to respect her modesty.) Eventually medication — the painkiller ibuprofen — was handed over to the older woman to distribute.

Sgt. Gabriel Faiivae, 25, the patrol leader, who had kept watch outside the clinic, acknowledged that the logistics had to be fixed. "But as far as building trust, it was really good," he said.

Villagers are often stunned, if not disbelieving, to see women underneath the body armor. Inside compounds, the female Marines say they have been poked in intimate places by Afghan women who want to make sure they are really women.

Team leaders said some male Marine commanders have been reluctant to send the women on patrols, fearing either for their safety or that they will get in the way.

Women, who make up only 6 percent of the Marine Corps, are officially barred from combat branches like the infantry. In a bureaucratic side step commonly used in Iraq for women needed for jobs such as bomb disposal or intelligence, the female engagement teams are added to the all-male infantry patrols.

Measuring up

The women, who carry the same weapons and receive the same combat training as the men, cannot leave the bases unless men escort them. Lt. Natalie Kronschnabel, one of the team leaders, said she had to push a Marine captain to let her team go on a five-hour patrol.

"It wasn't that hard, it was only four or five clicks," said Kronschnabel, 26, using slang for kilometers. "And they kept asking, 'Are you doing OK? Are you breathing hard?' "

Like the other women, Kronschnabel, a high-school athlete, had to meet rigorous physical requirements in the Marines.

Male Marines, who consider themselves the most aggressive fighters in the armed services, have been won over by the female engagement teams, referred to as FETS.

"I was skeptical 100 percent," said Sgt. Jeremy Latimer, 24, a platoon leader in Company F of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, who is based at Patrol Base Amir, an outpost in central Helmand. "I didn't like taking anybody who wasn't infantry. Basically, I was worried about getting shot at with FET Marines."

He changed his mind after he took two of the women into a village elder's home to smooth the way for a male medical officer to treat the Afghan's wife and daughters — again, from the other side of a wall. Latimer said the favor was important, because the elder had become an informant about the Taliban.

Since then, Latimer said, Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to children. When male Marines try that, he said, "It's just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry."


I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with many female Marines based out of Camp Leatherneck while I was there and working in concert with them at Camp Fallujah, Iraq while I was deployed there in 2004 - 2005.

They are military professionals and do an amazing job in difficult places....
SEMPER FI Ladies....This Seabee was always glad to have you there and appreciated the job you did.....no doubts from me on why they were there as they are Patriots and want to serve their country.

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