Permissible Arms

Finding a Way

Posted in afghanistan, us military by Karaka on 8 June 2010

You know I dig the Female Engangement Teams. I think it’s a long overdue program that connects with half a population otherwise hidden away. Elisabeth Bumiller, who has covered FETs before, profiles two Marines emplacing the program currently in Afghanistan:

Two young female Marines trudged along with an infantry patrol in the 102-degree heat, soaked through their camouflage uniforms under 60 pounds of gear. But only when they reached this speck of a village in the Taliban heartland on a recent afternoon did their hard work begin.

For two hours inside a mud-walled compound, the Marines, Cpl. Diana Amaya, 23, and Cpl. Lisa Gardner, 28, set aside their rifles and body armor and tried to connect with four nervous Afghan women wearing veils. Over multiple cups of tea, the Americans made small talk through a military interpreter or in their own beginner’s Pashtu. Then they encouraged the Afghans, who by now had shyly uncovered their faces, to sew handicrafts that could be sold at a local bazaar.

“We just need a couple of strong women,” Corporal Amaya said, in hopes of enlisting them to bring a measure of local commerce to the perilous world outside their door.

The first link describes the goal of FETs as one to “build a rapport,” and it sounds like that’s exactly what Amaya and Gardner are doing. From further on:

Since then, Sergeant Latimer said, Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to village children. When male Marines try that, he said, “It’s just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry.”

But what do all the visits and talk add up to? Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who helped create an earlier version of the female engagement teams in Iraq and has been working in Helmand, said that the women had to move beyond handing out teddy bears and medicine and use what they learn from Afghan women to develop plans for income-generating projects, schools and clinics. “You have to have an end state,” she said.

And that end-state must be one of economics. Women in third-world nation-states are the untapped resource.

Research has shown that women are more likely to reinvest profits back into human capital than are men. When women have economic power – defined as control of income and capital (land, livestock, etc.)-they gain more equality and control over their own lives, while contributing directly to their children’s development (nutrition, health and education) and thereby indirectly to their nation’s income growth.

Pulled from here. By blocking access to economic systems, to retain power or to continue cultural traditions or to adhere to religious doctrine, a nation effectively retards its own economic growth.

In a fit of disheartening irony, Bumiller reports as well on the (male) marine’s reluctance to take FETs out into the field.

The women, who carry the same weapons and receive the same combat training as the men, cannot leave the bases unless the men escort them. Lt. Natalie Kronschnabel, one of the team leaders, said she had to push a Marine captain to let her team go on a five-hour patrol.

“It wasn’t that hard, it was only four or five clicks,” said Lieutenant Kronschnabel, 26, using slang for kilometers. “And they kept asking, ‘Are you doing O.K.? Are you breathing hard?’ ”

Like the other women, Lieutenant Kronschnabel, a high school athlete in soccer, softball and gymnastics, had to meet rigorous physical requirements in the Marines. When she got back that day, she said the captain told her, “ ‘O.K., we’ll start getting your girls scheduled for more patrols.’ ”

Despite those hurdles, soldiers are still going through the FET program–including soldiers from NATO allies. Via Helmand Blog:

Two British female soldiers in Helmand have completed the United States Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team Course in Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.

Army administrator, Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (22), from Peasedown St John in Somerset and Army medic, Lance Corporal Nicola Murray (27), from Stretford, Manchester, both serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Helmand Province, have become the first British soldiers to have attended the 9-day Female Engagement Team (FET) Course which was held at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) base, Camp Leatherneck near Camp Bastion.

…Both soldiers will now form a FET within a newly formed infantry rifle company from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ground holding role in Combined Force Nad-e Ali in Helmand over the next four months.

Here’s to another month of growth for the program, and continued outreach to women in Afghanistan.

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