News: First female NCOs graduate in historic ceremony
Story by Staff Sgt. Lynne Lantin
HERAT, Afghanistan – Afghan women of varying ages, from different provinces and family backgrounds joined together for 12 weeks with a common purpose to serve and protect the people of Afghanistan as 23 Afghan National Army female noncommissioned officers graduated from Regional Military Training Center-West during a historic ceremony on Camp Zafar here Jan. 23.
RMTC-W is the first ANA training center, other than Kabul Military Training Center, to introduce females.
The cadets went through 12 weeks of rigorous basic army training to include formation movements, customs and courtesies, weapons ranges, map reading and land navigation, first aid, communications, patrolling and checkpoint operations.
RMTC staff had less than three weeks notice that they were going to receive female cadets and had many factors to consider in a short period of time. Everything from sleeping quarters and restrooms to religious services and childcare issues had to be addressed.
“I think it was very successful,” said Navy Lt. David Varney, RMTC-W Senior Military Adviser about the females training. “There’s always lessons learned in any training evolution whether we’re in the United States or in Afghanistan.”
According to NATO statistics, as of May 2012 only 350 women were serving in the ANA, so the new female NCOs have little to no mentorship or guidance in that respect.
U.S. and coalition advisers and RMTC staff assembled a meeting with female coalition soldiers to sit down with the Afghan females during their training. “It was all about mentorship,” said Varney. “For them to see coalition females, whether it be an Italian or an American, having that role model for them to be able to bounce things off of was invaluable.”
Varney and his team of eight advisers have been working with the ANA 207th Corps as they transition to complete Afghan control in the near future.
In a country where it is often difficult for women to even work outside the home, these women have crossed the threshold and don’t let threats from others deter them from what they want to do.
Sakina, 30, originally from Daykundi province in central Afghanistan, was the team leader for her class and said she had been threatened on several occasions during training. Once, men on motorcycles came to her house and told her to leave the Army; otherwise they would to do something to her, she said through a translator.
Sakina said she has a message for other females who want to join the military but have obstacles in their way. “They can come join the military and serve their country. If you join the military, there will be some people who threaten you and give warnings to you but don’t care about them.”
Sakina just wants to serve in the military and it doesn’t matter to her if she’s a radio operator, an instructor, a computer operator in the office or any other positions, she said. “My life is already at risk when I go home, so it doesn’t matter if they take my life over here on duty. It’s all the same to me.”
Najiba, 34, is married with children and said she joined the Army because she wanted to serve her country. “My husband is very happy that I am serving in the military, and he believes that females and males are equal.” She said she enjoys the weapons range and marching the most and is very interested in learning how to drive. Najiba would eventually like to become an instructor at RMTC.
“I will always remember those that have gone before me,” said Varney quoting the Sailor’s Creed, “and these ladies, these soldiers, are going to be the ones that are remembered. People are going to remember how they were treated. How they’re treated now will affect the future of integration of females in Afghanistan.”
“Your hard work and dedication is a sign of commitment, courage and great character,” said Sgt. Maj. Donna King, the operations sergeant major for Deputy Command-Support Operations and guest speaker at the ceremony. King joined the U.S. Army in 1983; a time when fewer opportunities were available for women in the military. “I am very proud of each and every one of you for taking a step in the right direction. I hope this will encourage others to join the ranks and serve in greater positions of responsibility. Continue to be a great role model and set the example for others to follow, and to want to serve and protect Afghanistan. The knowledge and experience that you have gained today will not only strengthen you, but it will also strengthen Afghanistan.”