News: Through her eyes: Afghanistan
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher Willis
Editor’s note: Commentary written by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Rosato, a truck commander for the 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Reaper Team 1. Her group of security forces members operates missions “outside the wire” providing security during key leader engagements and meetings with the local community. The team also conducts patrols to counter improvised explosive devices and indirect fire attacks as well as to engage locals’ support in protecting the base. Throughout my military career I always looked forward to having the opportunity to take part in a deployment in which the mission focus was centered on providing off-base security.
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - This past year my desire was fulfilled when my unit was tasked to take over the Reaper Mission at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to finally have the chance to implement all the training the Air Force had put me through and experience firsthand what it would be like to be on the other side of the fence, outside the wire.
As part of the team that conducts missions primarily during the day, the job is unique in the fact that we mainly focus on counter-insurgency, or more commonly known as COIN. Our efforts have afforded me the chance to have continuous interaction with the local population.
Experiencing a new culture first hand is always an interesting experience, especially as a woman in a male-dominant society. At the start of my tour, I found the transition somewhat challenging due to the fact that I come from a culture where women are typically placed on equal footing as men. I was perplexed when men would ignore me, make rude gestures or would just downright refuse to acknowledge my presence. After a while, I got to the point where I realized that I was just going to have to roll with the punches on those types of things and not let it deter me from my mission.
Going on combat patrols dealing with people that dislike you because of your gender is only one side of the story. The other, more thought-provoking side takes place when the local men realize that you are a woman. Both the men and children are intrigued by my presence as it violates many of the local social norms in the villages we frequent. Many times they flock around me, staring. Other times they will attempt to chat or touch me as they are not used to seeing a female out in public uncovered, much less on equal footing with her male counterparts.
Being able to balance patrol security while interacting with the villagers and building rapport is a trying task for any Airman. Combined with the fact that I am the only female on my team, I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of both positive and negative attention I have received. After settling into the routine, I found a happy medium combining the right amount of kindness but firmness.
Working in an environment while having to set aside certain cultural norms and personal beliefs that many women in America hold dear for the greater good of the ISAF mission continues to be a very challenging task. Combined with the idea of going out on patrol and the knowledge that you may encounter some people that are just downright ruthless and the thought of not being able to do anything about it is beyond frustrating. Particularly due to the fact that we, in the military community, have all been touched by this in one way or another, either by loss of family time with the deployment tempo or through the loss of a brother or sister in arms, has taken its toll.
Coming from an underprivileged home where asking for assistance was considered to be taboo and being taught that if you needed or wanted anything you went out and worked hard for it, it remains a struggle to overcome the preconceived notions that some of the local villages have about Americans. We are trying to help the local Afghans but at the same time trying to empower the people of this country to help themselves.
Afghanistan is a beautiful country with its breathtaking vista of mountains and river valleys, and although at times there have been moments that were difficult and frustrating, I wouldn’t alter anything about my opportunity to deploy to this country! Change on the grand scale takes time and even though I may not have seen all the transformation that we as Americans desire for this country, I can just hope that my small part in that process will have helped and I can lead by example for others to follow.