Story and photos by Cpl. Katherine Keleher
PATROL BASE FULOD, Afghanistan – The two service women of Female Engagement Team 15, Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda Richeal and Lance Cpl. Chandra Francisco, have been supporting 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, and their Afghan partners in their counterinsurgency mission since arriving in Sangin District, Helmand province, in the late spring.
The FET provides support by interacting with a key demographic that would be otherwise unapproachable by the Marines and their Afghan National Army counterparts: the women.
With Afghanistan being an Islamic republic, it is against religious and local customs for men and women who are not relatives to interact with one another.
“We go out with 1/5 and the ANA because the Afghan women are restricted to their compounds, and it’s a good way to meet them, show our faces, get them to open up and to build relationships,” said Richeal, the team leader for FET 15 and a native of Le Claire, Iowa. “So they can help themselves.”
While out on operations and patrols in Sangin, the Marines and ANA typically work toward securing the district by sweeping for insurgent activity and searching for improvised explosive devices. The FET accompanies many of these patrols, interacting with local women and children. The female troops also screen local women for security purposes when the need arises.
Typically after FET has performed this function, they work toward their own mission: to engage, find, understand and bridge the gap with the local population.
“We’ll go in there and ask them about their kids, education, health and security,” said Richeal, who is a corpsman by trade. “To the locals, it’s nice to see that the Marines are taking initiative to show there are females and that we respect their culture.”
A recent patrol through the district served as a typical example of the team in action.
“For 1/5 and the ANA, their mission was to follow and trace the compounds surrounding their patrol base and to follow up on some intelligence they had received,” Richeal said. “Our mission as FET was to search all women and children, communicate with them and build relationships.”
On the just over two hour patrol, 1/5 Marines and their ANA partners searched multiple compounds, checked for improvised explosive devices and asked locals if anything unusual was happening in the area.
“We got a really good atmospheric of the area and the locals,” said Francisco, a native of Monroe, Wash. “We leave such an impact on the Afghans we interact with by just making a presence and letting them know we’re here and that we want to help. It’s a slow process, but you can’t just jump right in and expect things to be peachy keen; you have to build that foundation.”
With only a few months left before the end of their deployment, Richeal and Fransisco look forward to continuing to work closely with the women and children in Sangin, and giving the next FET a successful area of operation in which to work.
“I hope that we set a strong enough foundation that they can just continue to grow and build from it,” Francisco said. “Hopefully they can build off of what we are doing now, and they can build more relationships and trust with the people of Sangin.”
Additional photos here.