FORT IRWIN, CA, UNITED STATES
FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Since their initial selections in March, the soldiers of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division’s Female Engagement Team have been working nonstop to increase their visibility and value in the unit.
Now, they get their first chance to show exactly what it is they can offer the unit while being one of the first trained FET teams to go through the National Training Center, here.
The 4th SBCT FET members have a specific skill identifier attached to their primary military occupational specialty that shows that they have had the necessary Army training, including classes on Afghan history and culture, medical, and how to work with interpreters, needed to be a member of a FET.
Because FETs are still fairly new to the Army, NTC doesn’t have specific observer/controllers designated to evaluate the FET, therefore, the company commanders, platoon leaders, and OCs who work with the teams evaluate them, said 1st Lt. Shasta Lewis, the FET officer-in-charge for 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div.
“Our primary mission is to engage the local females in Afghanistan and figure out what they need in their daily lives that U.S. Forces and their local government can provide,” said Lewis, a Federal Way, Wash., native.
But being able to tough it out with the combat arms soldiers in both training and a deployed environment is an important skill for the females to have.
“I think for us women, it’s not that hard for us to feel integrated with men because we always work with them, but when we encounter young infantry men who’ve never worked with females, we have to show we’re both soldiers doing our job,” Lewis said.
For Spc. Kelsea Wiley, a member of 4th Bn., 9th Inf. Regt.’s FET, growing up as the youngest and only sister among her three older brothers helped her integrate into the male-dominated Army environment around her.
“Once you can prove yourself, things go a lot more smoothly for everyone involved,” said the Ohio, Ill., native. “I definitely enjoy it and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Wiley, whose MOS is combat medic, brings more to the fight than just her cultural awareness and ability to speak with Afghan women.
“If all hell breaks loose, (being a medic is) my backbone. That’s engrained in me,” she said. “But never during the time acting as FET will I let the medic part of me take over, if that’s not what the mission calls for.”
Her two-person team, which includes her and another medic, have helped set up a traffic control point, pulled security and searched females, and been involved in a key-leader engagement.
During KLEs, the FETs are able to engage local females and males and gain perspective on what the environment is like in that village. During those events they also acquire a lot of experience and knowledge on their future roles in Afghanistan.
“For key leader engagements, I was very surprised by how important it is to have an interpreter,” Lewis said. “Relying on your interpreter and having a good relationship with them has been the most useful for me, because otherwise we can’t communicate with anybody.”
As the rotation here comes closer to an end, Lewis and the other FET members have learned they can’t just sit around and wait for a mission to find them – they have to actively seek opportunities to engage the local populace.
“The line units aren’t going to create missions for FET; we have to tag along and hope we can be utilized,” Lewis explained.
While she doesn’t know exactly what the other teams are experiencing with their respective units, Lewis said she does have one thing she’s looking forward to when they reunite.
“I can’t wait to get back to (Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.) and have everyone come together and share their experiences and really define what our mission is down to every two-person team,” said Lewis.
Once the FETs return home they will attend nine weeks of Pashtun language training to continue to prepare for their future roll in Afghanistan later this year.
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This work, FET continues progression of enabler role at NTC, by SSG Kimberly Lessmeister, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.