Female engagement teams: who they are and why they do it

PFC Jacqueline Buschman and SPC Heather Ray

Battle Company soldiers Staff Sgt. Peter Adames, left, and Spc. Heather Ray on patrol together during a visit to Hokumat-e Shinkai Bazaar, on Jan. 17, 2012.

SPC Heather Ray and PFC Jacqueline Buschman train with another solider on the firing range.

Afghanistan – Throughout Afghanistan, platoons of male soldiers from the Afghan and American forces conduct daily patrols. Over the course of the patrols there always exists the possibility of encountering women, given they make up nearly half the population of Afghanistan. The male soldiers are prohibited from looking at or talking to these women due to Afghan cultural norms which disallow as much. So in order to engage the female populace the American Army has established female engagement teams.

FET is a program that was started by the U.S. Marines Corps and has been around for nearly a decade. It is comprised of volunteer female members of appropriate rank, experience and maturity to develop trust-based and enduring relationships with the Afghan women they encounter on patrols. Having such a team at its disposal has given American forces an added tool in reaching out to the Afghan population in advance of the scheduled troop reduction in 2014.

Two such soldiers from Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1-14 Cavalry Regiment located at Forward Operating Base Sweeney in southeast Afghanistan, explained what FET means to them and why they volunteer to work outside their normal military occupational specialties.

“I wanted to make a difference,” said Pfc. Jacqueline Buschman. “I wanted to get out and see what the Afghan people were living like [and] help out in any way I could.”

“I volunteered because I heard about the culture and I wanted to make a difference in the women’s lives,” Spc. Heather Ray, another FET team member, added.

Ray goes on to explain how the women in a village, though not often seen by outsiders, have considerable influence on their husbands, children and their community as a whole. It’s Ray and Buschman’s hope that by sitting down and talking with these women that they will be able to encourage the wives to influence their husbands to stay clear of insurgent affairs and focus instead on bettering their families and their villages.

“By just sitting down and talking with them [we’re] showing them … that we do care and that we’re here to help them,” said Buschman.

Their concern is not solely limited to the female populace. Battle Company’s FET will often reach out to the children in a village as well. It gives them and their mothers a break, however brief, explained Buschman.

“One day we sat down and did coloring books with them. Some of them knew what it was. Others had no idea,” Buschman added.

When asked if they felt they were making a difference, Bushman explained how influential they can be because they are able to engage the families in a way their male counterparts cannot. Their job as FET members is part soldier and part diplomat.

“Anytime we get a chance to interact with the locals, we’re going to make a difference,” said Buschman.

Buschman and Ray go on to add that while they have accomplished much up to now, they still have several months left before their deployment is through and hope to use that time to further influence Afghans, both female and male, throughout the district they operate out of. They realize the demands, as well as the difficulties, of their job but they fully embrace it because their job as FET members enables them to engage the Afghans and show them that they are here to help in a way the soldiers they go on patrols with cannot.

“The infantry doesn’t see what we see,” said Buschman. “They don’t get to go inside the houses; they don’t get to see how a family interacts with us. It’s something you could take for granted … but then you go and visit with the family and you’re like ‘this is why I’m doing this, to learn and to help them in any way we can.

Story and Photos by Sgt. Christopher McCullough

A huge loss of a friend – R.I.P Zawar

This is an Afghan soldier who risked his life time and again and finally made the ultimate sacrifice, saving many U.S. and Afghan soldiers lives .

Goodbye Zawar, you will not be forgotten.

He was an Afghan National Army soldier who rode out in front of Battle Company convoys on a dirt bike. He and died doing what he was supposed to do – find IEDs. When he found his final IED, it killed him.

Sgt. Kenton Miller said that “all of us here owe our lives to him in one way or another.” Zawar was married with kids.

Sgt. Miller said that during a recent mission Zawar found an IED “and went to confirm and it.” The device was booby trapped to go off when he swept the dirt off of it. It exploded as intended and he died.

Miller said that “millions of dollars worth of technology were put to shame by one professional on a dirt bike with a bayonet and an AK47.”

Zawar was remembered in prayer at University Congregational UCC along with all the soldiers whose lives he saved.

Sgt. Miller said, for all of us, “Goodbye Zawar, you will not be forgotten. Rest in peace, brother.”

(NOTE: don’t know why the system says ‘comments closed’ because it’s NOT true. Just send me a note if you have a comment and I’ll manually add it to the post. — Jerry)

Is it spelled mustache or moustache? Our soldiers have ’em!

Is it spelled mustache or moustache? Both spellings work. Enjoy the ‘new’ faces of our soldiers

They may be fighting a war for us … but the bottom line is that these are young men, filled with enthusiasm and they seize even the smallest moment to have a good time. Keep on doing it.

THANKS, guys! We love ’em.

HEROES – A tribute from a father

One of the most active supporters of our Battle Company Project is a father of one soldier, Frank Lemaire, of Nashua, Iowa.

The Lemaire family is really an Army family. Dad and Mom served in the Army and their sons currently serve, including our soldier, Pfc. Steven Lemaire.

While visiting this blog, you are invited to take some time to read through the page called “Meet Your Battle Company Soldiers.

There you’ll find several videos that Frank, now farming instead of soldiering himself, has posted on YouTube and shares with us on this blog. He’s been connecting with individual soldiers and receiving their photos and video clips. Each video is a tribute to the young men featured in the images and the love of one dedicated parent.

Now Frank has posted a real winner that focuses on the heroism of our soldier/sons. Enjoy …

UPDATE NOTE: Frank has produced another video to honor our soldiers. Enjoy…

“Once soldiers step on the plane for deployment. Life changes. Yet the memories of family, friends and loved one give them hidden strength to make it through the hard times. The thought of holding a baby or hunting with your friends back home warms their hearts. This is dedicated to the ones who provide the memories. The families, friends and loved ones. Please enjoy,” he said on his YouTube post.

Frank has put all his Battle Boy videos on a DVD to be played on TV.

“If anyone is interested in a copy, send a self addressed stamped 4X6 padded envelope and I will burn one for you. Do Not send any money please, I’ll be offened. If you are compelled to send anything, send it to the Puppy Rescue Mission. A great organization. PM me for my address,” he said.