April 1st, 2010
07:38 AM ET

Going where male Marines can't

Camp Cafferetta, Helmand Province – Cpl. Christina Arana and Lance Cpl. Giada Witt check their weapons one last time, and leave the base behind. On the other side of the wire is … well, Afghanistan. The real country. It’s a long way from the relatively secure and well-supplied large bases – the places where most female soldiers and Marines are stationed. The two women are part of FET, or Female Engagement Team.

It’s a program started last year, when the U.S. Marine Corps realized it was only reaching half the population. The Marines mostly operate in the more rural, conservative areas in southern Afghanistan. There, men are not allowed to look at – let alone talk to – women. So the predominantly male Marine units were missing a chance to engage 50 percent of the Afghan people. FULL POST

April 1st, 2010
07:37 AM ET

Behind the scenes: Night in 'The Manger'

Editor's Note: CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers accompanied a U.S. Marine Corps unit on Operation Moshtarak in Marjah from its preparations into the first few weeks. A veteran of warzone reporting, she has filmed in places such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Iraq, Chechnya, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Here is part 4 of her reflections on her time in Marjah and a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges and camaraderie reporting from the Afghan battlefield. (Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

February 21, night in Marjah

Darkness falls in the mud compound where the Alpha Company is spending the night as they push further west. A huge sandstorm and rainstorm kick in, sending 20? 30? 40? Marines and CNN scrambling into a tiny mudroom for shelter. I think this is the kitchen of the compound. In the corner there is a hearth, and a hen is sitting on her eggs. The dirt floor is covered with straw. I call this room "The Manger" after a Marine jokes that it looks like the place where Jesus was born.

It is getting late, and Alpha Company's resupply trucks have not arrived yet. These are the trucks that carry food, water, ammo, sleeping bags, etc. We have all been up since the crack of dawn. We are all exhausted, and the absurdity of the situation we find ourselves in makes everyone silly. In this dark miniscule space, Atia, Gordon, and I begin to bond with the men. FULL POST