Best Defense

Women in COIN (III): The view from Helmand

Here’s a comment from Cpl. Nicole Zook, who has been involved in training Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan. Phrases in this note about training such as “I put them through the wringer” go a long way toward explaining why these FETs seem to work. I’m impressed. “I have trained female Marines for the FET teams ...

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Here’s a comment from Cpl. Nicole Zook, who has been involved in training Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan. Phrases in this note about training such as “I put them through the wringer” go a long way toward explaining why these FETs seem to work. I’m impressed.

“I have trained female Marines for the FET teams here and participated in them, as well as participating in both Lioness-type search teams and women’s engagement and medical teams in Iraq. The women who volunteer for these teams – and it is a volunteer effort – are some of the most physically and mentally strong, intelligent women the Marine Corps has to offer. They are also some of the most caring.

After finishing my tour of duty doing security missions in Iraq, I volunteered to train any willing Marines from my unit to prepare for the FET missions here in Afghanistan. There were ten. I put them through the wringer and held them all to an exceptionally high standard in their training. I ensured that they were well trained for the physical demands of combat missions, including crew-served weapons training, fighting, and self-defense; the mental demands of being a female attached to an all-male unit (there are plenty) and maintaining decorum among the sometimes unruly and rude men; and intensive cultural, language, psychology, and communication training to prepare them for interacting with the Afghan women. The Marines loved every minute of their training, even when I ran them into the ground, and asked for more. They are better trained than some of their male counterparts and they are participating in the program for all the right reasons.

These young ladies understand that through the FETs, they are being given the opportunity to make a connection and make a difference with Afghan women. Many times I see male Marines come to the Middle East with the attitude that everyone here is an enemy, and killing is the only answer. The FET volunteers care about the people of Afghanistan, and Iraq, as individuals, on a human level, with no preformed prejudice. That is why the program works so well. FETs go in with the right attitude, and the people know this. They are instantly welcoming, and we can see the difference we make among the women and children of Afghanistan firsthand – and we know that, in turn, they are making a difference among the nation’s men through their family connections.

The powers that be are calling for more troops in Afghanistan. I agree, wholeheartedly. But let them be the right kind of troops. What we need, more than just bodies, are EOD technicians, able-bodied interpreters, counterintelligence specialists, and FET volunteers. Lots and lots of FET volunteers.

Sincerely,

Cpl Nicole M. Zook
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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