News: Latvian introduction to FET concepts by U.S. Marines represents collective security in Europe
Story by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda
RIGA, Latvia -- It started with a respect for cultural norms; since male servicemembers were prohibited from merely looking or talking to women in Iraq and Afghanistan, searching a Muslim woman at an entry-control point was not allowed and caused security concerns. The solution was the Lioness program, where all-female Marine teams deployed to implement search-and-security measures in Iraq. To this end, all-female engagement teams have been around for the better part of the last decade.
What evolved from those search-and-security teams became a broader, more robust mission: the Female Engagement Team. The FETs, and later, the U.S. Marine Special Operations Command-sanctioned Cultural Support Teams, comprised of female members possessing the appropriate maturity, rank, and character to develop enduring relationships and trust with the women they encountered in the communities of the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
“We saw the need for the [FET capability] and received guidance from ISAF that this was a capability that will be mandatory within every unit, especially in the Marine Corps,” said Capt. Claire E. Henry, the officer-in-charge of establishing one of the first permanent FETs in 2009.
“[The FETs] were created because we saw this big, cultural gap and, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were population-centric operations and we needed to make sure we were speaking to the whole population.”
FET teams engaged the female demographic, distributing and collecting information between commanders and the locals, and assisting in everything from civil-military operations to clearing operations.
“We started training and created this team and deployed to support [I Marine Expeditionary Force-Forward] and its maneuver elements,” said Henry.
Latvia, a NATO Ally, requested the FET engagement through U.S. European Command and was introduced to this capability at Adazi Military Base, Latvia, from June 17-19, by Marines from Marine Forces Europe and Africa. This initial contact is the first step before further evaluation of the program, possibly into their own training doctrine.
“Contingency operations [in Afghanistan] are coming to an end but there are women in every part of the world and they comprise about 50 percent of the population everywhere; it’s good to see that the Latvians think this could be a capability that is very useful, not for just what we’ve done in the past but for what we might face in the future,” said Henry.
The Marine Forces Europe and Africa-led training included many aspects of formal classroom instruction, knowledge sharing and practical applications drills.
Being part of the initial concept, which began in 2007, and experiencing success in the Al Anbar province, Gunnery Sgt. Tiffany C. Hudgins was imported from the U.S. to the event as a primary instructor for the course, having also developed and evolved the early CSTs for operations in Afghanistan.
“Hopefully the Latvian military will take a good look at this concept and look to find a way to integrate this within their military and their planning,” said Hudgins.
“It’s important we utilize every Ally and partner we have because we have the same goals and the same end state; we all want stability in the world. If we have the ability to work with a partner nation and they understand a concept, we’ll have a level of trust to help with this function and help keep conflict to a minimum,” she added.
The team introduced the FET/CST concept by covering its operational history; population engagements; negotiation techniques with practical-application drills; introduction to civil-military operations and civil affairs; and an introduction to the Marine Corps intelligence collecting process.
“Being a part of NATO, we strengthen our security, but it’s a two-way path of cooperation,” said Latvian Capt. Jana Benete, who worked with Norwegian FETs in Afghanistan. “Having served two tours in Afghanistan, I have experienced how important it is to know about the area, culture and people you’re living with. The ability of the coalition forces to communicate with all communities is vital.”
Latvia, a NATO member since 2004, has intensified their support and cooperation to their European and U.S. partners since their independence in the previous century. Although small geographically, Latvia has committed to NATO operations to a host of security missions, including the Central African Republic, Mali and Liberia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Hercegovina.
“Several coalition countries that have formed FETs have shown good results in their operations. The mission success of these teams made other countries more aware that the FET/CST concept is working and needs to be considered as one of the commander’s mission enablers,” she added.
“This seminar is a great opportunity to see how FET is done by our allies,” said Benete. “By having FET experts here in Adazi, we have a chance to listen and learn about FET from the ones who have gone through it, who are experienced. Sharing these experiences and lessons-learned with others not only saves time but strengthens our relationships.”
Latvia is showing their commitment to collective security by working with allies and partners throughout the U.S. European Command area-of-responsibility. Training evaluations, such as this FET engagement, are indicative of that commitment as partners look for better ways to support their NATO Allies.
“We cannot afford a large-force deployment and we are coming forward with more specialists; FET could be one of these specialties. I think this is a good time to rethink if we would like to broaden our capabilities by forming teams of females prepared to go out to contribute to Latvian security,” said Benete.
The U.S. and Latvians found common ground as female servicemembers and instructors were able to share their knowledge of past FET/CST experiences and lessons-learned to reinforce the concepts they presented.
“It was important to present the unique dynamic of FET because it’s new to them and still fairly new to us, but sharing our learning experiences with it and our lessons-learned shows them that if we could start it and implement it, they could too,” said Sgt. Elizabeth S. Butler, an intelligence analyst for Marine Forces Europe and Africa.
Consistent engagements enable communication and familiarity between partner militaries and give the Alliance an idea of how militaries can interact to support future missions.
“We’re more likely to have a connection because we’ve established the relationship with people from our militaries; it can enable us to cover the battle space better, having better working relationships with these countries and especially when we go into places we haven’t focused on in the past,” Butler added.
Events like this FET event are also indicative of the continued commitment to NATO Allies and partners and EUCOM’s dedication to stability in the region and to the global-security environment, anywhere in the world.
“Especially as [enemies] become less conventional military forces, it’s going to be low-conflict resolution; how can we have real effects when we can’t put conventional forces on the ground. That’s going to be very important,” said Henry.
“For operations that we go to in the future, it’s not going to be one-country, unilateral operations; it’s going to be under a bigger umbrella, and doing these engagements let us work with someone we might possibly be working with down the road.”
Building the collective security of partners on the continent not only ensures regional and global stability within their borders, but may also prove useful for future contingency operations, where the battle space is unknown and the opposition is ever-shifting and unconventional.
“Speaking in the context of current events, NATO and how it reacts with what’s going on within this region is vital to the security within all the partner countries; it calls into upon Article 5 of NATO ,” said Henry.
Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is the principle of collective defense, stating a fundamental principle of NATO; that if one Ally is the victim of armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider it an act of violence against their own and take actions it deems appropriate to assist the Ally.
“What this [event] truly means is that by being here, making face-to-face contact, having relationships with the military personnel within Allied countries, and letting them know that there is solidarity within our ranks, will project, globally, the image that we will defend and protect what we need to.”
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