News: Battlefield Evolution: Transforming female soldiers into front-line fighters
Story by Spc. Michael Sword
GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany – War breeds evolution. That evolution leads to changes on the battlefield as obvious as the first tank to roll into battle, or as subtle as the upgrade from the M16A1 to the M16A2. In a long and ever-changing war in Afghanistan, the ability to change and adapt has become paramount to success. Gone are the force-on-force wars of the past, being replaced by a complex counterinsurgency involving an enemy without a single leader or common uniform.
During the last ten years of war, the U.S. Army has made many changes to the way battles are being fought in Afghanistan. Most recently is the Army’s decision to develop an official program in order to more effectively engage an off-limits-to-men female population of Afghanistan and give the Army one more tool in the counterinsurgency fight.
As the soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based out of Vicenza, Italy, prepare and train here for their fourth deployment to Afghanistan, 21 of their female soldiers have volunteered to participate in the training to be part of the brigade’s first Female Engagement Team. The soldiers of the 173rd were also joined by nine soldiers from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Katterbach, Germany, who are preparing a FET of their own.
“Training is nine days of classroom instruction with multiple instructors and we brought in subject-matter experts for each class because it’s still so new,” said 1st Lt. Christina DiCicco, the officer in charge of FET training for the 173rd. “I really want them to be prepared for deployment, understand what a Female Engagement Team consists of, their role and the importance of it.”
With the help of several officers from the 173rd, DiCicco was able to develop an effective training session for the new Army program, enlisting several instructors including Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scarlett Granillo of Vilseck, Germany’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, to assist with the training.
“I’ve done the female engagement team for a total of four deployments so I have been teaching several of the classes here,” said Granillo. “When I found out this training was going on I wanted to go ahead and assist because I know how I felt when I had to go ahead and start this.”
Over those four deployments, Granillo has seen many versions of what will become the Army’s modern FET. While the early versions were more combat-focused, the new training focuses more on interaction and building trust with the women of Afghanistan, without losing sight of the necessity of security and combat-readiness.
“I would consider the cultural awareness and the historical portion the most important because it helps us understand them better and gives them the basis to trust us,” she said. “It’s very significant in Afghanistan and to the Afghan people that you understand the culture and their history because everything is intertwined in how they do business, how they react to us, and how they perceive us.”
The volunteers have come from different jobs, different ranks, including officers and enlisted soldiers, all looking to be part of this opportunity. Spc. Angela Martin, a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd ABCT, deployed with the unit in 2009, is looking forward to a different experience during her next deployment.
“When Lieutenant DiCicco came up to me and asked me, I had not heard too much about it, but I thought that this is something I want to be a part of,” she said. “I can still help out medically, but this time it will be more about interacting with the people and the culture, not just from a medical perspective but also from a social perspective.”
Pfc. Crystal Campbell, a parachute rigger with HHC, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, has been in the Army less than two years and although she was hesitant to volunteer at first, the training has her feeling better about the upcoming deployment and her possible role as a member of the FET.
“Before this class, I really had no idea about Afghanistan, and now I have a lot more knowledge of it, learning about the history and knowing what I’m getting into,” she said. “I actually feel more comfortable now,”
After nine days of classroom instruction, the FET soldiers will continue to train and prepare for their role in the 173rd’s next rotation. This first step has them excited, and they’re anxious to bring their training to the battlefield.
“I’m looking forward to going out and being able to sit down with the women, talk to them and try to make them more comfortable with the Americans being in their villages and being in their country,” said Campbell. “I want to let them know were not all bad and that were there to help.”
“I think this program has a lot to offer for both us as Soldiers and also the Afghan people because when we go out there and interact with each other on a social level, on a casual level, we get to know about each other and each other’s culture,” Martin said. “We’re both burdened by stereotypes of each other.”
Though the Female Engagement Teams aren’t meant to be a cure-all for dealing with the female population of Afghanistan, the female soldiers of the 173rd are aware of the effects this program can have and while the progress may be small, it will be well worth the opportunity.
“I’ll be nervous but I’ll also be excited,” said Campbell. “I think now is the time to make a difference, step out there, help out and make it safer for our guys to be out there.”
“What I really think would make this mission an accomplishment for me is if I could get to know and help out one family,” said Martin. “No one is going to change the country overnight but if we can help one group of people that would be something.”