US Marine All-Female Team Conducts First Mission in Southern Afghanistan
Dispatches from the Front:
FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, March 12, 2009 -- Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan (SPMAGTF-A), now have a special group of individuals to help them complete their mission in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Marines employ a select group of all-female Marines from within SPMAGTF-A who are trained to interact with the Afghan female population – a task considered culturally unacceptable for their male Marine brethren operating in the Islamic republic.
A similar program has been used in combat operations in Iraq, but this is the first time Marine forces in Afghanistan have employed the concept.
Capt. Mike Hoffman, commanding officer of 3/8’s Company I, said the all-female team is an important asset for his Marines.
“[The team] provides us access to half of the population that we normally do not have access to,” Hoffman said. “They did extremely well interacting with the female villagers.”
2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer, the team leader, said their first mission, a cordon and search in support of Operation Pathfinder, was very successful.
“We were accepted by both the men and women villagers and were able to obtain valuable information about the way they lived and what they thought about the Marine Corps operating in the area,” Shaffer said.
During their first mission, the female Marines deliberately donned brightly colored head and neck scarves as a sign of cultural respect to the Afghan women.
“The scarves showed the Afghan women that we were women too, and we respect their culture,” said Shaffer. “They automatically felt more comfortable with us. They showed us their homes, and even though they didn’t have much they were still very generous to us. They accepted us as sisters, and we’re glad that we were here to help them.”
Although Afghan women tend to be more reserved than Afghan men, they still have a large influence on their children, Shaffer said, so engaging with them is important.
“If the women know we are here to help them, they will likely pass that on to their children,” she said. “If the children have a positive perspective of alliance forces, they will be less likely to join insurgent groups or participate in insurgent activities.”
Hoffman said the female Marines were also accepted by the village men.
“They were not opposed by the villagers,” Hoffman said. “They had no problem allowing [the team] the chance to interact with their women.”
According to Shaffer, the concept employed by her team varies greatly from the program in Iraq because of differences in Afghan culture.
“The cultural background here is completely different than that of Iraq,” Shaffer said. “Women here are more timid than in Iraq. There is less of a chance that an Afghan women would try to harm us because they understand that we are here to help them.
“We also do not know much about the daily life of Afghan women,” she said. This provides us not only the opportunity to learn about the women, but also to build and maintain faith and trust of the Afghan women.”
The mission of SPMAGTF-A is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan national police. Operation Pathfinder was a deliberate counterinsurgency engagement conducted in coordination with Afghan national security forces along Route 515 in southern Afghanistan.
(Report by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Afghanistan.)
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