News: Life on COP Jannat: through a FET’s eyes
Story by Staff Sgt. Kristen Duus
COMBAT OUTPOST JANNAT, Afghanistan- They come from different walks of life. One, from Argentina, is a light-wheeled mechanic, by training. The other- from Michigan- a cook. But they’ve been brought together by deployment, spending nearly every waking hour together. They’re members of the Female Engagement Team, attached to Courage Company, 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
The soldiers, who are the only two female soldiers at Combat Outpost Jannat, had one similar goal: to make a difference on the deployment, to see real combat.
“We put ourselves out there as an asset for our company,” said Spc. Tara Johnson, the cook from Kalamazoo, Mich. “We put ourselves out there as a team for International Security Assistance Force and to the local population.”
Spc. Ana Walker, a native of Argentina, came to the States for the first time in 2004, and is married to a soldier who is also deployed.
“I’m pretty sure that whenever people see us here, they think ‘wow, they have females out here,’ and we’re giving them the concept that females can do that, too,” said Walker. “Females can go out and get a job, they can see that, and I appreciate that.”
Both soldiers are mothers, leaving their children behind so they could deploy.
With the military recently announcing that women will soon be allowed in combat jobs, these soldiers are getting a head-start on being on the front lines, as part of the only Female Engagement Team company in the Army. However, while these women are on the front line, they are not combat soldiers by definition. The FET’s main objective is to be able to talk to women and children. Because of cultural lines, male soldiers are unable to fill that role in communicating with local women.
Like any soldier on a deployment, these women face their work challenges, as well. Though they go on several missions a week, they are not always able to talk to women and children in the villages.
“They know what we’re capable of doing,” said Johnson. “They know that we’re here to assist them and help them, but initially, it’s up to them.”
While some locals welcome the soldiers’ help, others are still apprehensive about having the women communicate with their family members.
The team, who went out on patrol with 3rd Platoon, Courage Company, 4-17 IN, 1/1 AD, Feb. 24, had difficulty talking with a physician at a clinic in the village of Delavarkhan Kalacheh.
“Things got really tense when he saw that females were standing by and ready,” said Johnson. “But they didn’t want to cooperate. I think it initially comes down to them, you can only help someone as much as they allow them to.”
Fortunately, their patrol the following day proved to be more promising, as the physician in the village of Sarkari Bagh was all too eager to allow the soldiers to talk to his female patients.
Though it is unusual to have only two females at one COP, they are taking it in stride.
“I feel safe because we have to be together all the time,” said Walker. “She will take care of me, I will take care of her.”
While Johnson plans to get out of the Army at the end of this enlistment, after four years as a soldier, she feels that her time here is well spent.
“I would take away the fact that I’m out here, I’m doing it, I’m pulling my weight, I’m doing my role as a FET member, as a Soldier, as a woman and as a mom- everything, day in and day out. I have something to bring to the table.”
Walker, who has been in for less than two years yet, has different aspirations.
“Honestly, what I want to do is 2016- Special Forces in the Army,” said Walker. “That’s my goal. The FET is a good opportunity to come here, deploy, do this job. It is a good experience for me, but I want to do something more, too.”