PATROL BASE SIAPAN, HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
Lance Cpl. Sharhonda U. Jones had constantly been asking her command for a chance to deploy, so when they approached her and told her about the new female engagement team program, she jumped at the opportunity.
The 21-year-old from Wills Point, Texas, trained for three months before she deployed. She participated in field and weapons training, as well as classes on the Pashtu language and civil affairs.
The FET members, with Regimental Combat Team 7, believe that the more they go out and are seen by Afghan men, they will start to see what their women are capable of and give them a chance to become business women, teachers and even members of the government. Male Marines cannot effectively talk to the Afghan women because of cultural sensitivities.
“When I had to search my first Afghan woman, it was scary,” said Jones, originally an administration clerk. “I could see she was uncomfortable because she thought I was a guy.”
Jones, admitting it was hard to engage Afghan women at first, said that most of the locals in this area have never seen an African-American female before. They have grown accustom to only seeing African-American males come through. Every time Jones visits a compound or is involved in a village medical outreach, the local females automatically assume she is a male.
Jones has become more vocal around the women and has even gone as far as removing her flak so they can see her female figure. This way the Afghans are more comfortable and Jones can move on with her mission of engaging the Afghan women and children; showing them that this is so much more than just a war – the Marines are helping the Afghans build their government and use their own resources to rebuild their country after years of fighting.
“She’s great with the kids,” said Lance Cpl. Kathryn L. Mannion, Jones’s team leader with the FET. “And once the Afghan women realize she is a woman as well, they get a kick out of her. She’s really funny.”
Most FET members get assigned to ground forces made up of entirely male Marines, but Jones has a different perspective than most female Marines on that topic.
“I like it,” she exclaimed. “Growing up around males, I believe I have a different look on the Marine Corps. I see what they are going through and I have a lot of respect for them.”
She said that the male Marines have grown accustomed to working with her and her teammate, and they are treated as one of their own.
“She makes friends really easily,” Mannion said. “Everywhere we go, she always knows just about everyone there.”
Jones really enjoys and is proud of what she is doing out here, but when she returns home, she is going to be busy putting in her reenlistment package and her plan is to request temporary orders to try out for the Marine Corps basketball team.
“She loves the Marine Corps; I’ve never heard her complain once, no matter how bad the living conditions can get,” Mannion said. “She’s more than just a team member, she is a great friend.”