COMBAT OUTPOST COUTOU, HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
Originally from the Philadelphia suburb of Coatesville, Pa., Lance Cpl. Kathryn L. Mannion finds herself in the hot deserts of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Mannion, assigned to the female engagement team with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, spends her time in Afghanistan interacting with Afghan women on a daily basis.
She first heard about the FET program from a Marine with her parent command, Military Police Company, I Marine Headquarters Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Mannion was interested in this program, intended to interact and engage with Afghan women.
“My company was being sent out with different infantry battalions and they couldn’t take me because I was a female,” said Mannion. “I really wanted to deploy, so I saw it as a good opportunity.”
She trained for three months before she deployed. Most of her time was spent in language and culture courses, but she also participated in field training, such as patrolling and hikes.
Mannion and other members of the FET are able to interact and influence the local population that the male Marines cannot because of cultural sensitivities.
“We are just getting our faces out there,” said Mannion, 24, who joined the Marine Corps as a college senior. “When they see the females, they know we are not here to fight; we aren’t here to hurt anybody. We are kind of seen as the third sex. We can talk to the men, the children and the women, where the men can only talk to men. Female Marines tend to give a sort of comfort to the local populace.”
Mannion said at first, their male counterparts with the infantry battalions were not used to seeing female Marines in their area of operations, and were unfamiliar with their exact mission. After awhile, the units start to see what the teams do and how they operate, and they are effectively able to include the FET and work together.
Mannion and the other members of the FET try and keep up with the male Marines, jumping over water canals and patrolling long distances. They are able to keep up because they had a strong physical training program before they arrived in country.
She is friendly and will sit down and use her Pashtu training to talk to any Afghan woman who will listen. Mannion and her teammate found themselves in an Afghan compound with no interpreter, but despite the circumstances, they used the Pashtu they knew and before they knew it, Afghan women surrounded the two of them. She said they had a great time and the women taught them how to dance, put make-up on them and they even tried on the women’s clothes.
“She is the heart of our group. She puts all she has into the mission,” said Lance Cpl. Sharhonda U. Jones, Mannion’s teammate. “She connects with the people very well.”
Mannion is preparing to head home in the fall, and is planning on getting married in October 2011. Her fiancé is also currently in Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. She finds time almost every night to sit down and write letters to him.
It seemed frustrating at first for Mannion, because the mail took so long to reach her fiancé, but their commands worked out a couple phone calls and it helped her out a lot. This experience has brought them closer together.
This prestigious experience humbled Mannion, who says she will return home with a different outlook and attitude.
“When you see people living as poor as this, you really appreciate everything you have back home,” Mannion said. “I appreciate the rights that I have as a woman.”