CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Members from both the U.S. and U.K. Female Engagement Teams met for training at the Afghan Cultural Center here, May 16.
The purpose of the meeting was to share information, advice and experiences, as well as discuss and highlight the importance of embedding female linguists with the teams. The Marines on the U.S. FET have been in Afghanistan for nearly two months, giving them knowledge they passed onto the U.K. FET, who just recently arrived in Afghanistan.
The meeting included a brief from cultural advisers on misconceptions about the Afghan culture, and ways to gain the trust of Afghan women. A question and answer period followed, with many of the Marines providing insight into their experiences and advances they have made.
Many of the points made by the teams individually were agreed on by the Marines as a whole, including the invaluable use of female interpreters.
“Our linguist is everything to us,” said Cpl. Vanessa Belcher, a Marine with FET 4, located in Marjah. “Without her we wouldn’t get much accomplished.”
Belcher, a Tellico Plains, Tenn., native, said her linguist, Faria Jalala, is especially helpful when the Marines are in the villages and the Afghan women misconstrue her team for males. Jalala is able to wear her hair in a ponytail, which makes her more accessible to Afghan women, and in turn is able to expose them to the Marines.
“It is awesome to have Marines helping Afghan women,” said Jalala, originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, but currently a resident of Leesburg, Va. “There’s no way I could help Afghan women on my own. Without Marines, I wouldn’t be here helping.”
It is the goal of the FET to get a female linguist embedded with each team. Some teams currently operate with male linguists or none at all. Those teams spoke of the benefits they hoped to gain from working with a female linguist in the future.
“We are working on getting a female linguist so we can be able to talk to locals,” said Cpl. Diomarys Negron Velez, a Marine with the Shirgasi FET. “Our [local] women are especially shy about talking to our male linguists. All we need is a female linguist to reach out to the other 50% of the local population.”
With the help of linguists and the support of coalition forces, to include the U.K. FETs, the U.S. FETs continue to make progress in their areas of operation around Regional Command Southwest. After the success of this meeting between the teams, both FETs plan to hold similar meetings during their next training evolution in a few months.