Updated on January 28, 2015
Female engagement teams (FET) are the key to winning this war. Without our female troops, it would be near impossible to contact and engage with some of the most influential people in the Afghan home – the women. But, we’re actively engaged in ensuring that we do whatever possible to earn the trust and confidence of the Afghan populace – all of them.
Staff Sgt. Steven Stogner, tactical platoon sergeant, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, explains how to inspect body armor and equipment needed for air insertion missions to Female Engagement Team soldiers from the 504th BfSB, Aug. 13, at Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak, Afghanistan. The new FET will embed with squadron operations to help connect Afghan women in the area with their government. Stogner is a Heneryetta, Okla., native deployed from Fort Hood, Texas. Story and photo by Senior Airman Jessica Lockoski
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan — Soldiers from the 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, recently created the first-ever Female Engagement Team in Combined Task Force Viper’s area of operations in rural, southern Afghanistan.
“The role of our FET is to connect the government and its women together and better their treatment and opportunities, such as healthcare, education and employment,” said 1st Lt. Sarah Casper, FET team leader and information operations officer, 2-38 Cav.
FETs, comprised of military women, are aimed at assessing the needs of Afghan women. They partner with Government Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials to improve the women’s quality of life, treatment and influence among the population.
Casper, two female Afghan interpreters and three female soldiers from the 504th BfSB are identified as FET members. They hope to increase the two-way communication in the Spin Boldak and Weesh areas so they can initially begin to facilitate basic needs.
Many women in these regions have little or no interaction with female soldiers. However, Casper, a Florence, S.C., native deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, explained by listening to them and sharing simple gestures, such as smiling and comparing roles of household responsibilities and motherhood, the engagement will go a long way in building trust and self confidence.
Viper’s FET will also play a duel part by gathering atmospheric knowledge, which can give the squadron a larger picture of situational awareness in surrounding village communities.
“We also will play a role in tactical operations,” she added. “A lot of commanders use FETs during kinetic operations where female soldiers conduct physical searches of women or gather pertinent information from them.”
For example, due to cultural sensitivities, a male soldier should not approach or speak with an Afghan woman. Any interaction with a woman may put her life in jeopardy or scrutiny from members of her village.
But Casper said a woman’s ability to necessitate communication and physical contact in a non-threatening environment may open doors to counterinsurgency goals.
“Afghan women comprise about 50 percent of the country’s population,” she added. “That’s a large portion of people who could bear great influence among society. Sometimes in Pashto culture, the elder female may have a lot influence behind closed doors in her village.”
Because the women will be an embedded asset during security operations, Casper, along with soldiers from 2-38 Cav., helped provide the FET with the tactical aspects of training. Before they are able to conduct missions, they learned search and seizure techniques, weapons familiarization and basic air-insertion training.
Casper also provided them with knowledge she received from attending the FET course taught by Regional Command-South subject-matter-experts, at Kandahar Airfield. Afghan culture, history and government were emphasized, and as well as the importance of respecting and deterring to local customs and traditions.
Spc. April Wallace, whose primary job is working as a mechanic for the 509th Forward Support Company, 504th BfSB, is one of the FET members who received training at Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak.
Although her FET mission will be an additional duty, as with all of her teammates, the Coolidge, Ariz., native said she is anxious to start.
She has been interested in the FET concept since she heard about a similar Army-led program called Cultural Support Teams before she deployed and wanted to volunteer while in Afghanistan.
“I’m excited for this experience,” said Wallace, who was selected among the best candidates for FET by her first sergeant. “The training was good, and I look forward to meeting these women and see how I can relate to them because I myself am a mother.”
Casper said she would like to see the FET make embroidery, a popular woman’s craft in the region, into a livelihood for them. The team is also working on mid-wife networking among villages and would like to provide health and hygiene classes in the future.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity to connect to these women,” Casper said. “I hope what we do for them allows these women to be self-sustaining.”