News: Female Soldiers attempt to close gap between U.S. and foreign cultures
Story by Spc. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Whether it’s adapting to a foreign environment or dealing with multiple deployments, soldiers both male and female, have teamed up to accomplish some of the most difficult tasks. But as soldiers continue their daily operations in Afghanistan, there are obstacles that separate the two genders.
In the Afghan culture women are forbidden to talk to men they aren’t related to, making it difficult for male soldiers to assess the needs of the female population. Recognizing this cultural gap between the U.S. forces and the Afghan people, the Army has begun deploying female engagement teams.
Comprised of five to six members, FETs work directly with maneuver battalions.
The Army adopted the idea for the female-focused teams from the U.S. Marines’ “lioness” program. Initiated in Iraq, female Marines were put in small teams and attached to units to help facilitate a female-search-female approach.
The Army has since broadened the mission of the FETs to include elements of community relations and cultural awareness, said 1st Lt. Robin Tullercash, a platoon leader with the 184th Military Intelligence Company, 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
“FET teams now allow female soldiers to engage with the Afghan females and build a relationship with that half of the population,” Tullercash said. “We want to gain the trust and support of our Afghan counterparts.”
Although Tullercash admits that bridging a gap between two cultures can be difficult, it’s a challenge she recently welcomed.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Tullercash said. “It’s inspirational.”
As the officer in charge of the 1-25th SBCT’s female engagement team, Tullercash led a team of female soldiers through a wide variety of classes focusing on cultural awareness, the Afghan language, Pashtu, and local customs.
“We are training the soldiers how to properly assess the atmosphere of the village and find out the needs of the Afghan women while sending them the message that we care,” Tullercash said.
Understanding these areas of the Afghan culture is something she said is important to establishing rapport among the customarily silent female population.
“[The training] gives the team a valuable look into the lives of Afghan females,” said Pvt. Koncina Outcalt, a mechanic assigned to the 25th BSB.
Completing the course Dec. 16 at Fort Wainwright’s Battle Command Training Center, the 1-25th SBCT’s FET is already looking ahead to the next challenge which will come early next spring as the Fort Wainwright- based unit prepares to deploy to Afghanistan.
“It’s exciting to be given the opportunity to go out there and do different things,” Outcalt said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
(Editors’ Note: Information used in this story was compiled from one on one interviews as well as information gathered from the following websites; defense.gov, army.mil, npr.org and usmc.mil)