CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- A surge of over 40 Marines with the Female Engagement Team came to Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Nov. 11-15, where they were able to kick up their boots and talk about their experiences in Afghanistan since they began their deployment.
During their time on Camp Leatherneck FET received reset training, which the unit conducts every 45 days. In their reset training classes the Marines covered topics such as Rules of Engagement, escalation of force and basic lessons learned on relationship building with the local Afghan populace.
“It gives us an opportunity to re-group and re-organize our missions,” said Sgt. Jessica Lugo, the FET 6 team leader in Sangin district, who grew up in Los Angeles. “A lot of things can happen in 45 days. When we come back (here) we can do those lessons learned, recap, learn anything and revise anything that we might need to execute later on in the future.”
The mission of FET is to reach out to and interact with Afghan women and their children. Until FET was established, women and children were not heard from because of cultural restrictions. Afghan women past the age of puberty are not permitted to talk to men.
Since FET, made up of nearly two dozen two- to three-member female teams of Marines and Sailors serving as hospitalwomen, were stood up nearly two years ago, they have been able to build relationships with Afghan women within their communities.
A main priority of the FET team members during reset training is to talk among one another about lessons learned and come up with new ideas on how to approach women, different ways to get word out in the villages about upcoming meetings, or even different ways to possibly get local Afghans to understand the importance of sending their children to school.
It is nice to hear about the progress being made in other districts such as Marjah and what they are doing, so when it comes time when teams such as the ones in Sangin are ready to do something new, they already have an idea about what should and should not work, emphasized Lugo, who is a military policewoman by trade.
Sangin district, where Marines recently executed Operation Eastern Storm, is still considered to be major insurgent threshold and many locals are still too fearful to leave their compounds, Lugo explained, making it exceedingly difficult for coalition troops to work toward counterinsurgency.
“I can tell you that 90 percent of the women we talk to have never seen FET,” she said. In response, FET teams in Sangin district spend as much time as possible in public meeting as many of the local women as possible. Team members agree that success can be measured in small and large ways.
“We did a bicycle handout with the students that participated in our old (combat out post) for good attendance (in school),” said Cpl. Brandy Bates, a team member with FET 11 in Marjah district, and a native of Ann Arbor, Mich. “We handed out about 40 different bicycles.
“We also discovered a girl’s school with about 110 girls ranging from ages 6 to 15, which was really nice. We have some hygiene classes we’ve given to the (Afghan National Army) as well as some of the local children.”
Armed with lessons learned during reset training and the successes of previous FETs, current team members said they are looking forward to accomplishing their missions and goals within the communities of Helmand province in the upcoming months.