Female Engagement Team builds bridges into Afghan society

23 Oct 2010 | Sgt. Dean Davis

As the Female Engagement Team of Regimental Combat Team 1 patrols the fields, canals and villages of Helmand, they are bridging the cultural gap that is sometimes at the forefront of the counterinsurgency here.

In Afghanistan’s culture, a woman’s modesty is a sanctity closely guarded by everyone. But, this specially trained team is able to reach across those boundaries, enabling them to go where male Marines often cannot.

“Afghanistan’s society is much more conservative [than that of the U.S.] when it comes to women,” said 1st Lt. Quincy Washa, FET platoon commander for RCT-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 US 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, from Ogallala, Neb. “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.

"[Information collected] 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," said Carson. "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. Like any Marines, they are riflemen first. They attach to infantry companies, where they provide security, gather information and search people, vehicles and compounds.

“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.”

The 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.