Female Engagement Team (USMC)
United States Marine Female Engagement Teams have their origins in Iraq and Afghanistan during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. During these conflicts, units recognized the importance of communication with the female Muslim populations in these regions.
The first concept of a FET was largely based on the Marine “Lioness” teams of Iraq, which had been successfully utilized to search female Iraqis for concealed weapons and contraband items during a wide variety of missions. Since then the teams have evolved into an important resource that can reach the local Afghan communities in ways that have not been done before.
What They Do:
• The Female Engagement Team conducts outreach primarily through interaction with women and children to learn about and report information on the local population.
• This information is then used to implement community development programs that will serve the needs of that specific local area.
• Another advantage of this team is their ability to gather and communicate information to women without violating cultural standards of the local population.
Who They Are:
• The Marines selected for the team were screened for strong leadership skills, physical fitness, and the ability to confidently interact with diverse groups of people.
• Training consists of classes on culture and language, instruction on how to conduct engagements, and combat skills (including weapons handling, personnel searching, and patrolling). FETs need to truly understand the culture, practice and ways of Afghan life, since making a sound connection within Afghan communities is key to their success.
• In the spring of 2010, I Marine Expeditionary Force deployed the first dedicated FETs that solely conducted female engagements. The teams are in theater for seven-month cycles. The second iteration arrived in Afghanistan in September 2010.
• FETs are in support of battalions across the area of operations and consist of two Marines, sometimes enhanced by a female Pashtu interpreter and/or a female medic.
• The Female Engagement Teams currently serve as enablers within 10 districts and 85 villages throughout Helmand province, operating from 30 different posts, bases and camps.
Female Engagement Team examples:
• In Musa Qal’eh, the FET identified a family with the skills and interest in establishing a tailoring business. The FET arranged a micro-grant for the women to purchase the supplies required to start the business, which resulted in the development of economic opportunities for other women in the community.
• In Sangin, the FET conducted several health initiatives to educate women and children on basic medical and hygiene practices. More than 350 local Afghans arrived for the health training, demonstrating the FET’s success at reaching out to the community.
• In Garm Ser, the FET assisted a local female Afghan National Police officer in coordinating weekly meetings with women in the community to discuss issues important to them. This meeting has helped establish and develop the beginning of women’s governance in the Garm Ser district.
• In Now Zad, the FET worked with the district governor and other local leaders to establish a center for women where they can receive vocational and literacy training. The FET has been instrumental in helping to identify instructors, develop local female leadership, and teach women the skills necessary to create economic opportunities.
• The FET leadership has facilitated several visits of the women on the Helmand Provincial Council to the districts, including Now Zad and Garm Ser. These visits help connect the women to their government representatives, and increase the Provincial Council’s awareness of the concerns and needs of the communities they support and represent.
Additional Background Information:
Cultural norms in Muslim nations often restrict direct interaction of adult men and women, reducing the ability of coalition forces to directly communicate with women and thus, focusing military interaction almost exclusively on the male population.
The first known effort similar to the current Female Engagement Teams was a group of female Marines in Iraq with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group known as the Iraqi Women’s Engagement program. Operations of this program began in the early spring of 2006 in multiple key cities of Al Anbar province. This team helped build the trust and confidence of women in the area, and opened up additional lines of communication.
Early in 2009, elements of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Farah province, Afghanistan, created a team comprised of female Marines and a female local national interpreter to help communicate between local Afghans and service members.