USA — Teams Seek Rapport With Afghan Women

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2010 — Fol­low­ing the coun­terin­sur­gency tenet of sup­port­ing civil­ians, the Army and Marines have deployed women-focused teams to gain insight into Afghanistan’s most­ly silent female pop­u­la­tion.
Female engage­ment teams are deployed to sup­port bat­tle­field oper­a­tions and meet with Afghan women to gain under­stand­ing and insight into the country’s cul­ture, Army Col. Chad­wick W. Clark, direc­tor of the Coun­terin­sur­gency Train­ing Cen­ter-Afghanistan, said dur­ing a Dec. 7 “DoDLive” blog­gers round­table.

Team mem­bers are trained “to con­duct female engage­ments in a cul­tur­al­ly respect­ful man­ner,” Clark said. They bring to the war effort com­pre­hen­sive under­stand­ing of the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment and con­tribute to civ­il-mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, med­ical vis­its, and edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams, he said. 

“All the females that are on these engage­ment teams have vol­un­teered to do it,” Clark said. “They’re tak­en from dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ties, and they go through vary­ing degrees of train­ing, depend­ing on how they’re going to be employed.” 

The coali­tion has 40 female engage­ment teams with at least two women per team, Clark said. Team mem­bers pos­sess dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and mil­i­tary spe­cial­ties, he added, and they have very high morale. 

“I haven’t talked to one woman that’s on a female engage­ment team that isn’t moti­vat­ed and hap­py about what she’s doing,” Clark said. Clark hopes to increase the num­ber of teams. 

“The demand far out­weighs the sup­ply that we have,” he said, “which is one of the rea­sons why we’re try­ing to look at the pro­gram, [to] expand [and stan­dard­ize] it.” 

Marine Corps Col. Sheila Scan­lon, a U.S. advis­er on gen­der issues and female engage­ment teams at the Afghan Min­istry of Inte­ri­or, also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the call. 

Team mem­bers must pos­sess a vari­ety of skills, includ­ing the abil­i­ty “to move, shoot and com­mu­ni­cate while they’re out [in the field],” Scan­lon said. Yet, she said, one of the most impor­tant val­ues the teams exhib­it is cul­tur­al sensitivity. 

“All of us try not to insult the Afghans and to try to abide by their rules,” Scan­lon said. 

In addi­tion to engag­ing women in Afghan com­mu­ni­ties, she said, the teams also are used to sup­port Afghan army and police women in hos­pi­tals in Bagram. With this in mind, she added, lead­ers are just begin­ning to real­ize the var­i­ous uses of the teams. 

“We’re work­ing very hard over here on how to best deploy the FETs,” Scan­lon said. “We’re learn­ing as we go along. We are using lessons learned. As Colonel Clark said, we’re try­ing to stan­dard­ize it across the ser­vices. It’s exciting.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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