1MEF Marine Female Engagement Team returns home from Helmand Province in Afghanistan

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Lance Cpl. Angela Pacheco cried as she embraced her parents during a welcome home celebration of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1MEF) female engagement team that had been deployed for seven months in Afghanistan. Photo by Daily Titan Graphics Editor Jonathan Gibby

As soon as the bus carrying Marines, of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, who had been at war in Afghanistan came into view, tears began to stream down the cheeks of mothers and fathers who had not seen their daughters for seven months.

The marines didn’t arrive till 3:30 a.m. Friday, and leading up to their arrival their families waited in a hanger on base.

These Marines, called FETs (Female Engagement Teams of the United State Marine Corps.), are the first women to go on all-male foot patrols with Marine infantry units on the front line in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

The genesis of the concept for FETs came from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

During these conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the need for interaction with female Muslims was recognized, according to a release issued by the Regional Command South West Public Affairs.

In January of this year, a mass message was sent out to female military to volunteer for an engagement team said Sgt. Guadalupe Rodriquez.

Those 40 women were trained to conduct FET missions full-time.

In the spring of 2010, First Marine Expeditionary Force deployed from Camp Pendleton, Calif. a FET company of roughly 40 U.S. Marines who came from various military occupational backgrounds, according to a press release from RCSW public affairs.

The main goal of this experiment is for the FETs to interact with Afghan civilians, specifically the women, because Afghan culture does not allow male Marines to interact with them.

These FETs support battalions of all-male Marines and are divided into two to three female Marine teams assigned to 16 different outposts across Helmand.

Early Friday morning, after a 20-hour flight, this first round of FETs returned home from Afghanistan to anxious family members.

Parents shared their stories.

“She would tell me, thank you mom for sending me this scripture because we had an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blow up and my girls didn’t get hurt but we read this right before we went,” said Johanna Carrillo, mother of Sgt. Vanessa Jones. “And we felt just like God took care of us.”

Jeannine Naslund, mother of 27-year-old Capt. Emily Naslund, the team’s executive officer, had clippings of writings Capt. Naslund had written on the front line to share with fellow parents.

“I’m a flight attendant and I’ll get this question at least once a week. ‘Does she think she’s doing any good over there?’ and I’m like, ‘excuse me, do you think you’re doing any good over here?’” Jeaninne said. “First of all, it’s not her job at that level to decide if it’s a good war or a bad war.”

Jeaninne explained the work her daughter had been doing in the seven months overseas.

“I know this one Afghan man said that, ‘when your men come, we know they come for war. But when your women come, we know they come for peace,’” Jeannine said.

Jill Mannion, another FET mother, teared up when asked how she felt now that her daughter was returning home.

Jill and Joe Mannion’s daughter, Lance Cpl. Kathryn Mannion, 24, is engaged to a fellow Marine, Danny Campbell. For the duration of this deployment, Jill kept her daughter’s engagement ring safe, wearing it until her return.

After waiting for hours, the time came to welcome their Marines home. But before they were able to, the FETs filed into formation and Capt. Naslund spoke to the parents, preparing them and sharing with them their daughters’ experiences for the past months.

“The women in which you are attempting to engage with are very, very closed off…the whole concept of this program is revolved around the fact that they are inaccessible to male Marines who are generally operating these dangerous areas,” Capt. Naslund said. “In the past seven months we were able to go on over 600 patrols and to engage with over 3,000 women.”

Family members of the FETs listened intently, waiting for their daughters to be dismissed. Capt. Naslund said her marines treated multiple civilians. The marines aided those with gun shot wounds and helped deliver a baby.

“These things are going to change the Afghan women’s lives for history… they will remember the female marines, they will remember Americans,” Capt. Naslund said. “Not to mention on a larger picture people will know now that female marines can hang!”

To that, shouts of approval thundered from the parents. And after closing remarks, Capt. Naslund shouted, “Fall out!” With that, the marines sprinted into the arms of their families.

Capt. Naslund answered questions about her personal experiences during deployment one on one with the Daily Titan.

Being in charge of the FETs these past seven months gave Capt. Naslund a new perspective on her career and the world, specifically the Pashtu culture, who follows traditional rules and practices the use of the Pashtu language, who live under difficult conditions.

Capt. Naslund came to realize that there are more opportunities in her career and that female marines can be out there on patrol and do what male marines can.

“I don’t think there has been or will be another experience like it for most of the girls. I think their day jobs are going to seem pretty boring after this,” Capt. Naslund said. “I mean, in counter insurgency there is really no front lines but they were out there.”

Counter insurgency, or COIN, is an attempt to step away from the fighting, to work with the people instead of fighting the Taliban, as explained by Lance Cpl. Mannion.

When asked what the FETs provided their male counterparts that wasn’t originally available to them, Capt. Naslund said access to Afghan women.

“So the biggest thing is influence. So in a counter insurgency the enemy hides amongst the people,” Capt. Naslund said. “You need their (the locals) support in order to win, otherwise you will never know who the enemy is until they start shooting at you. It’s not a war of attrition, it never will be.”

Capt. Naslund responded with directness when asked if she ever had to use her weapon.

“Me personally, no. My marines, yes,” Capt. Naslund said. “But it’s war, it happens.”

Marines had with various opinions on their experiences as FETs.

“It probably sounds cliche, but I definitely appreciate the rights we have as women a lot more,” Lance Cpl. Mannion said. “The area that we were in was very traditional. A lot of time just getting through the males of the compound to the women was frustrating.”

Sgt. Rodriquez described her deployment as a humbling and eye-opening experience.

“We got to see a part of Afghanistan that not only females, but some male Marines, never get to see,” Sgt. Rodriquez said.

Regarding the male Marines reaction to their presence on patrol, all the marines were similar in their responses. The males weren’t the friendliest at the start, they were initially skeptical, but by the end the FETs were treated like sisters.

The future of the FETs is uncertain. One more batch of FETs will take over where Capt. Naslund’s team left off and is being deployed from North Carolina. After that, it remains to be seen whether this experiment will become a recurring operation.

Support for women serving in combat units can be found locally in an amendment supported by Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California’s 47th district.

If given the option to serve in the FETs again, responses varied. Some said it was a one-time thing while others, such as Capt. Naslund and Sgt. Rodriquez, responded with an overwhelming “yes.”

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  • Don

    Semper Fi, Marines!

    Don
    Sgt from the 70’s

  • Cpl Karen A Holliday

    Ms. Barron-Lopez,

    great article, but FYI the term “Marine” is ALWAYS capitalized in this context…..

    Semper Fidelis,

    Cpl Karen A Holliday

  • Ed V.

    They are also called Lioness teams I believe.

  • Sgt Fuji

    Not to mention that we are a CORPS, not a corporation.

  • Ken Delfino

    This Viet Nam Navy combat vet says “BRAVO ZULU” Marines!!!
    RivDiv 533 (PBRs), TF-116
    IV Corps, RVN
    10/66-7/68

  • Dan

    @octobunny:As an infantryman, I see where you’re coming from, but the fact remains that until the Marine Corps actually holds a standard for those that are IN the Grunts (males), they simply can’t allow women in the infantry because for every female who can hack it (as you claim to be) there would be dozens of feminist “I am woman hear me roar” who would be nothing but a liability. Also, while your job may come in handy, I have found FETs to be more of a liability than anything, much like most support Marines temporarily attached to my squad. The fact remains is that if you think VCP’s ECP’s and random searches are what Grunts do, you are SADLY mistaken. Try getting ambushed and push 1000 meters closing with the enemy in 120 degree heat, wearing 100 pounds of crap, not just once, but many times more than once, A DAY… for a WHOLE DEPLOYMENT. I went my full deployment without running water or a shower.

    Also, the reason FETs were a liability is not because I’m a chauvinistic cromag-grunt, it’s because ALL support Marines were. Shooting a rifle on a known distance range, and MCMAP does not mentally prepare you for War. If you are learning shit at Mojave Viper, you’re wrong, it is a TEST of what you already know. A Warrior immerses himself in the lifestyle day in day out, through PT, classes, mentoring and self assessment. It is not a job with transferrable civilian skills.

    Lastly, I don’t know what unit you were with, but one of the smallest Marines in my unit carried a 200 lb squad leader with full kit 500 meters to the medevac bird… while wounded himself. If there are guys out there that couldn’t manage it, I doubt there are females who can. Combat fitness is more than a worthless CFT, and way more than a 3 mile jog in shorts and sneakers (Which I max out on both by the way)

    In conclusion, I don’t claim to know the first thing about Helicopters, computers, or satellites, so please don’t insult me with claims that you know the first thing about what I do.

  • Ron Cowart

    Semper Fi! I could not be more proud!
    Vietnam, Class of 1967

  • langoley

    HOO-RAH Dan!!!I also noticed that Capt. Naslund stated that in the 7 months she was the was there she NEVER FIRED HER WEAPON!!! In Helmand Province,?, wtf,I am all for ladies in the Marines,and I am sure most pull their weight,but once again,WTF!!!

  • Luke Easter

    Female Engagement Team (FET / USMC)

    So, what do you call a fearless bunch of female Marines?
    These soldiers are the, FET, Female Engagement Team,
    1st Battalion 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team II,
    They don’t do equal they accomplish more than men do.

    Hold your horses or in this case, slow down your tanks,
    Women soldiers are more effective, what do you think?
    Who is always able to get more cooperation than man?
    48 gals working the volatile front lines in Afghanistan.

    Sergeant. Sheena Adams chews bubble gum while on patrol,
    Hearing of a soldier’s death a translator has come to know,
    In comfort to her crying about the death of a fellow Marine,
    This photo a constant reminder of heartfelt recurring scene.

    Can’t be something trained or rehearsed whatever she says,
    Then we have the smile holding two babies by Luz Lopez,
    A Lance Corporal assisting in a village medical outreach,
    And a welcomed break from patrolling the deadly streets.

    These women who volunteer for the assignment participate,
    10 weeks in Camp Pendleton, Ooh-Rah, its not second rate,
    Anything attached by the tradition in the name U.S. Marine,
    Is an advanced technological piece of a well-oiled machine.

    Both Riane Donoho and Lance Corporal Kristi Baker are 21,
    Corpsman Shannon Crowley’s 22 but when all is said & done,
    Include Master Sgt Cherelle Peters-Williams it’s not too hard,
    To see their dedication now add Corporal Catherine Broussard.

    Here we have a list, several of the randomly dedicated names,
    Intense by the seriousness, not computer generated war games,
    Now, only back home not here they’ll breathe their last breath,
    Patriots like Corpsman Amy Housley patches up life not death.

    Guns, daughters, sisters, mothers, some lucky guy’s girlfriend,
    Not the make-up of Cover Girl but one of the military to begin,
    Now another sun will arise in Boldoc, the province of Helmand,
    Marching forward declaring the rights of others in a foreign land.

    Pictures tell how they like to ham it up by the way they pose,
    Surely, no matter the country or uniform a rose is still a rose,
    Yet these roses proudly wear the combat color, fatigue green,
    As they uniquely serve the FET of The United States Marines.