Photo Information

Members of the San Diego Chapter of Women in Defense, watch a video featuring the female engagement team in action in Afghanistan, during the 3rd Annual Women in Defense symposium March 10, in La Jolla, Calif. Members of the female engagement team were present as guest speakers and shared their experiences with the audience.

Photo by Sgt. Heidi Agostini

FET Marines, 9th Comm. CO share Afghan experience with defense professionals

11 Mar 2011 | Sgt. Heidi Agostini

Three Marines from 9th Communication Battalion represented women who serve during the 3rd Annual San Diego Chapter, Women in Defense Symposium on March 10, in La Jolla, Calif.

Lt. Col. Julie Nethercot, Commanding officer, 9th Comm. Bn., accompanied by female engagement team members, Sgt. Anica Coate and Sgt. Sara Bryant, shared their recent Afghanistan experience with the group of professionals in attendance.

“The fact that I’m standing before you today as a battalion commander who has just returned from Afghanistan serves to illustrate how far women have come and our roles in theater,” Nethercot said during her speech.

Women in Defense is an organization that was founded in the late-70s and works to promote networking and professional development for women in national defense and security. The organization also works to support the armed forces and strengthen the partnership between local communities and military bases. 

This year’s symposium theme was  “Succeeding in a Time of Transformation,” enhanced by influential speakers which included, Rear Adm. Barry Burner, commander of Submarine Group 10, who led the Navy’s task force on integrating women onto submarines. 

With social and cultural customs creating new challenges to how military forces engage local populations, Marines like Nethercot, Coat and Bryant have helped the Marine Corps adapt to a constantly changing combat environment.

“The adaptations that the armed services have seen throughout the current conflicts continue to highlight the creativity and flexibility that all of us need to have, to be successful in a world full of transformation,” Nethercot said.

Barbette Lowndes, the director of Total Workforce Management at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, knows an adapting organization when she sees one.  “USNA ‘80” is all she has to say for people to know the path she’s been on. Lowndes is a 1980 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, the first class to graduate women. 

“It was a media circus,” Lowndes recalled.  “They saw us making history and I would just living in the moment. I saw it as a chance to get a college degree. But everyone else saw the bigger picture.  You don’t understand the history you’re making until you’re gone, and then you look back.” 

Women service members are now, more than ever, contributing to the nation’s armed forces operational success. There are now women pilots, tactical vehicle drivers who brave bomb-laden conditions, and intelligence analysts, all who provide critical skills on and off the battlefield.

 “In addition to those services, the services themselves have had to adapt to transforming battlefield,” Nethercot said. “Gone are the days of the clear, delineated front line and rear support area.”

While national debate continues to focus on women’s role in combat environments, conventions like this allow servicewomen to share their perspectives and stories.

“I’ve never heard of this female engagement team,” said Kat Pate, vice president of sales for Conference ConCepts, Inc.  “They are amazing women that are knocking down barriers. They need to share more of their stories to inform the American public. We only get our news from TV and newspapers, but it’s another thing to hear it straight from the women who were on the ground.”

Coate and Bryant, both members of the female engagement team, recalled their first patrol, the camaraderie between male and female Marines and the impact the FET made on counterinsurgency efforts.  While both understand they’re making a large contribution to the trailblazing history of women in uniform, Coate and Bryant are more interested in educating the public and military of the benefits of the FET.

“It’ll generate more support and awareness,” Coate said. “If more people realized how great it is, it’ll give us more weight when people are asking, ‘Why are they even out in the battlefield? They’re women they don’t belong there.’”

Whether the female Marines serve in a combat support unit or member of the FET, women serving in Afghanistan are making a difference not just to the country but also to their services.

“The roles of women Marines serving successfully in Afghanistan only goes to illustrate that organizations can adapt to changes and be successful through areas or in the case of Afghanistan, a country going  through a transformation,” Nethercot said.”