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.

The military has found that while Afghan women may seem outwardly marginalized, they do have a good deal of influence within their homes – especially over young sons, who make up Afghanistan’s next generation. Also in rural areas, Afghan women often meet amongst themselves, and share information about the village. Afghan men don’t place the same restrictions on speaking to Western women. So the FET Marines first have to engage – and gain the trust of – the man of the house. Once he is comfortable with them, he’ll often invite them into his home to speak with his wife.

FET is designed to put trained female Marines into areas where the U.S. military is trying to win over the Afghan people. They get special training before being deployed. The women are taught the history of the Taliban, and some of the cultural awareness issues specific to different parts of the country. Some of these lessons are supplied by input from actual Afghan women from those areas.

Because they will be operating outside the wire, often on foot with Marine patrols, they also take an extended refresher course in combat training. This includes increasing their awareness of ambushes and sniper attacks, and learning more about convoy operatons. Witt says one of the exercises involves doing a lot of push-ups, jumping up into a full sprint and then stopping to fire. The training is designed to increase their ability to fire under pressure, something most female Marines don’t have as much experience with. FET grew out of the “Lioness” program in Iraq, where female Marines searched Iraqi women at checkpoints.

Women only make up about 6 percent of the Marine Corps. And FET teams are still staffed in an ad hoc way, thrown together with women who have other jobs and responsibilities. That means a FET team could spend a month or so establishing relationships within a particular village, and then be summoned back to their “home unit.” Some critics of this practice say, if the FET program is producing good results, it should be staffed full-time. And women should be allowed to spend longer periods of time training and deploying to their designated areas.

soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. MJ

    After being in the military for 6 years, and been overseas I can honestly say that being in the military is a privilege to me, to know that my family sleeps sounds every night while fellow comrades keep themselves vigilant to protect our nation. It is easy to say that is not fair, or that it should have not been done, but to be part of a nations transformation not only gives you a sense of accomplishment but pride.
    Those that are not part of the military will never understand the sacrificies we have to make; leaving our kids behind, husband or wife is not an easy a task but it gets done..like others have mentioned freedom is not free, and it should not been taking for granted; while the media only focuses on Iraq or Afganistan, US troops are everywhere, from humanitarian missions in Africa, South & Central America to protect our own, WE are ready to get the mission done and make every citizen proud..BTW I am a female Soldier and like me and other female Sailors, Airman and Soldiers we are proud of the difference that we make in our military.

    April 5, 2010 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. Allen

    I honestly don't see this going over well, all it's going to take is 1 or 2 incidents and it's going to explode on the media that the United States has sent Americas women into a combat zone and now were killing our future moms. They have their purpose but i see this back firing really soon. Same Thing happened in Iraq with the females that got blown up in a convoy going to their post.

    April 5, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. bleedtrue

    Look until we can control the evil that men are capable of..there will always be war. These brave women are helping protect you from ever having to face true evil. While you sit in your comfy couch and watch another documentary about "the man" and his evil war, realize there are real true blooded Americans continuing to fight so you can post those blogs. Until you have been to war and realized what man is really capable of, don’t judge our leaders for making decisions to send us to war and help keep your freedom. Semper Fi

    April 5, 2010 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Onesmallvoice

    If one paid too much attention to the right-wing CNN news media,one would get the idea that these gun-toting bimbos were even holier than Mother Theresa and with all these right-wing nutjobs blogging in here cheering them on,one would get the impression that our society keeps getting sicker by the year.

    April 5, 2010 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jon

    Hope this works:D

    April 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Julie Marin

    I agree... Well Done Women MARINES! Now will their service records reflect that they were in harm's way? Probably not. Will they be recognized for her service and exposure to the same dangers as her male counterparts? Probably not. Will some of those women suffer from PTSD and have to deal with mental health issues? Absolutely! Will they be covered by the VA for their service connected disabilities? Probably not! Will they receive the same considerations for promotions considering their service and duties in harm's way? No, probably not. Things REALLY need to change for the military and the Marine Corps.

    April 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Beth Steele Radisek

    AMAZING female MARINES. Way to go Witt.

    April 4, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jerry

    Blatant propaganda aside, it is good to see how much support these brave women have at home.
    Semper fi indeed.

    April 4, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  9. Patricia Ryan PAO

    I am a US Army Corps of Engineers civilian Public Affairs Officer working in Kandahar Afghanistan. Along with Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen (male and female) I recently attended the first Movement of Afghan Sisters (MAS) event held at the compound of Governor Rohullah Amin in the City of Farah. No one knew for sure how many women would show up in this conservative province of south western Afghanistan. More than 100 women of all ages made their way to the compound, many with their children. Once inside the safety of the walls of the compound – many (not all) faces were uncovered and for the first time I was able to shoot photographs of faces that are usually hidden behind burkas and scarves. It was an incredibly brave gesture for these Afghan women, and a tribute to their interest in improving conditions for women and children in Afghanistan. Unless you are here, you cannot begin to understand the fear that they live in on a daily basis – I am proud to be here doing my small part to support our military who are working to improve the lives of the Afghan people. Although there are many differences in culture – one common thread is the desire to live in peace and raise their children in a safe environment. That is the Afghanistan that you almost never hear about, and the one we see every day. Patricia Ryan, USACE Afghanistan Engineer District South.

    April 4, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel, UAE

    I just love it when the big misconception occur that it is okay for the american airforces/marines to occupy the afghani/iraqi land and hence; cause the killing of the afghani/iraqi civilains (over one million casualties) and it is forbidden for any afghani/iraqi person to retaliate otherwise he would be called a bloody terrorist.

    April 4, 2010 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. kyphi

    The more knowledge these Afghan women have, the more they will realize they should have equal rights.

    April 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Stay safe girls

    Listen, Im personally a friend of one of these two marines, and she by far does not have a taste for killing. Shes a wonderful person, and never would want to kill anyone. She just wants to actually help them, and of course come back to the states and enjoy life. Some of these comments are so ignorant and ridiculous. They want to go out and see the world not find people to hurt.

    April 3, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Muslimah

    stupid americans, this news makes me sick. what a lies. americans government are enamies of Islam and muslim will see the female soldier who carrying guns thinking she will win the hearts of afgan women as a devil and will not give them trust. Islam will rule the world like it or not.

    April 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Deaman

    It is exactly this type of 'grass-roots' level campaign that can help to improve the confidence of those innocent people caught up in this war, and to help show the younger generation that the enemy is not necessarily the US and allies.

    You go girls!

    April 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Onesmallvoice

    All this stupid warmongering! Now the right-wing news media people are getting women into the act.Anything to glorify this dispicable war.How little do they report on the human side of this miserable war and the tragic loses the people there have to endure.And we have all these right-wing nutjobs blogging in here about the "glory and splendor" of this war.Let them move to this country for about a week just to learn how "wonderful" this war isn't.

    April 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Pam

    FET has the potential to yield excellent outcomes. Afghan women need an olive branch extended to them rather than what they have been accustomed to for generations. Afghan women could help bring peace to the region, which would have exordinary consequences for them and their children. Greg Mortenson's 2009 book, "Stones into Schools" pp 322-328 gives you an idea of what Afghan women are capable of given the opportunity to flourish!

    April 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Sternberg

    Lenny, Daniel and Faisal, should try being more subtle in their propaganda efforts, if they want to be effective. All that shrillness and made up nonsense, just makes them look sissified and dishonest.

    April 3, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  18. Adrian Keefe

    Full of admiration for these Marines who happen to be ladies. The six per cent ... how proud to be one of the six per cent.

    April 3, 2010 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
  19. bailey retired

    A Marine is a title earned not given by gender, well done ladies hold your heads high, bow to no one

    April 2, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  20. An Afghan girl

    I think this is a positive approach and I appreciate these marine' s efforts!

    April 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  21. WTC

    I don't get paid to promote this but...read "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools", both by Greg Mortenson. Best books I've read in years. What the marines are doing are totally compatible with the ideology behind Greg's efforts as depicted in his incredible story. If you have to be in a hostile, foreign land, this effort is the path to win, or better yet, END the confrontation. Great move, marines, it will pay dividends.

    April 2, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Harry

    This is sharp and I really like the idea. There are quite a few bad ass women in the USA that would love an opportunity like this. Definitely NOT a combat force to be deployed for assault. I do like the fielding of women in roles where their command and presence can be wittnessed. Should the FET be ambushed and hold strong, I think the Taliban getting their tails whipped by a special women's force would make some heavty proppaganda and really disgrace their campaign efforts.

    April 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
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