CAMP PENDLETON, CA, UNITED STATES
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines have always held true to the standard – every Marine a rifleman – regardless of their job specialty. With continuing deployments to Afghanistan, Marines are proving this adage regularly.
Members of a Female Engagement Team with the Camp Pendleton based, I Marine Expeditionary Force, participated in a combat marksmanship training exercise here, June 30, to prepare for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
A FET is comprised of all female Marines who come from different units and possess various job skills. FET Marines are training to gather census information and communicate with the female population in Afghanistan.
Teams in the past have found that women possess a significant influence over their husbands, brothers and children. By earning the trust of female Afghans, Marines can increase their chances of winning the trust of the local population.
“Based on cultural restrictions in Afghanistan, male Marines are not allowed to talk to women, but FET members are able to communicate with both men and women,” said 1st Lt. Zoe Bedell, a logistics officer from Markham, Va. “Female engagement teams will embed with infantry units and allow better access to the female population in Afghanistan and be able to identify their concerns.”
In order to prepare for this mission, FET’s undergo a variety of training. Recent training has focused on marksmanship, but they will also undergo a Pashtu language class, combat life saving course, communication class, and foreign weapons training.
“This is not the main focus of our training but it is very important. I want them to be prepared,” Bedell said. “They have to be proficient and comfortable with defending themselves.”
One way Marines maintained proficiency was by repeated practice of clearing a jammed weapon.
“I didn’t feel very knowledgeable when it came to clearing a jam, but going through this training has made me much more familiar with immediate action drills,” said Sgt. Savanna Malendoski, a supply clerk from Oakdale, Minn. “It becomes muscle memory after a while so that when things get bad you’ll know what to do and not panic.”
Aside from weapons familiarization a second purpose of this training was to have FET Marines be able to engage enemy targets at close range with speed and accuracy.
Fortunately, this is not the first time these Marines have done this – all Marines are required to undergo annual marksmanship training.
After firing off hundreds of rounds, Marines began to feel more comfortable with using both the M4 service rifle and the M9 pistol.
“Doing this is definitely a big confidence boost. I know that if my rifle fails then I have my pistol to rely on, with this training I feel confident using either one,” said Sgt. Heather Evans, a warehouse clerk from San Diego.
FET’s will deploy and operate in teams of four Marines. Their missions will include taking part in tasks like searching women at checkpoints, gathering census information that will assist civil affairs projects in the future, and their main mission of opening up the lines of communication with Afghan women.
Female Engagement Teams have already proven to be successful in Afghanistan, Bedell explained. She hopes that these Marines can continue that success during their tour of duty by enabling infantry battalions to gain a better understanding of the wants and needs of locals.
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