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.

Why do our volunteers support Battle Company soldiers?

Sometimes our volunteers get frustrated when they pray for – or prepare care packages for – their soldiers.

The work of preparing packages or writing letters, for example, is a pure labor of love and never qualifies as hard (although sometimes, it’s expensive).

Most of the time our soldiers do not respond in any way after receiving letters or packages.

We understand: they are busy fighting a war. But nevertheless, not hearing from them becomes a frustrating silence.

And then comes a note from one volunteer, Carol McQueen, of Aberdeen, Washington:

Hello Jerry:
I just wanted to take this time to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to pray for someone who has become very special in my life, the soldier I have been and will continue to pray for (Sfc. Troy Jensen). I feel so privileged to be able to do this. Thank you again. You and Ruth are in my prayers also.
Blessings,
Carol McQueen

And then there is former KOMO-TV news photographer, Bryan Hollowell, who just keeps on making and sending cookies to his soldier, Pfc. Michael Commons.

Bryan hasn’t heard a word from Afghanistan since the project started but that doesn’t deter him in the slightest. He keeps mailing cookies and he continues to pray for Pfc. Commons.

Atta Boy, Bryan!

Being there for someone when they need someone is at the heart of Christian ministry.

Keep it up folks, our soldiers are still in Afghanistan … and they are still fighting a war for us.

Teams locate roadside bombs using metal detectors on steroids

Pfc. Nikko Williams (below), 3rd Platoon, Battle Company, uses a MineHound to search for weapons caches.

Pfc. Nikko Williams, 3rd Platoon, Battle Company, uses a MineHound to search for weapons caches.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas (below), 3rd Platoon, Battle Company, uses a Gizmo to search for weapons caches in an orchard.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas, 3rd Platoon, Battle Company, uses a Gizmo to search for weapons caches in an orchard.

Photos and story by U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher McCullough

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan – The joint Afghan National Army-U.S. forces counter improvised explosive device team of seven soldiers walked down the dusty rural road in Shamulzai District, Afghanistan, ahead of their convoy; scanning the route with their eyes for subtle clues that might help them visually identify an IED hidden on the road.

When they see nothing, they verify as much by sweeping the same area with their VMR-2 Minehound and VMC-1 Gizmo metal detectors in a slow precise manner before walking ahead.

“We walked a good four and a half (kilometers) in front of the whole convoy because we had just recently been hit with an IED on the route back (to Forward Operating Base Sweeney),” said Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas, 3rd Platoon, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. “All seven of us had Gizmos and MineHounds (and were) out there clearing the whole road so the rest of the convoy could make it back to FOB Sweeney safely.”

The MineHound is a handheld detector that uses ground penetrating radar and metal detection technology which gives it the ability to detect deep buried, low metallic threats such as mines and caches.

“The Gizmo is just an easy (to use) metal detector used to identify metal or you can switch it to minerals,” explained Barajas when asked to describe the two devices used that day.

“It’s a lot like the metal detectors you see men on the beach with, but on steroids,” said one of his soldiers, Pfc. Nikko Williams, also from 3rd Platoon, 5-20 Infantry, Task Force 1-14 Cavalry.

The use of such gadgetry has been a blessing to both ANA and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. For Barajas and his team, the MineHound’s ground penetrating radar enabled them to discover a secondary IED earlier in the day, prior to the IED strike on their convoy. That IED was only a hundred meters forward of the one that hit them. Without the MineHound, there stood a chance Barajas’ team may have missed that roadside bomb.

The use of the MineHound and Gizmo detectors started with combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal personnel, but they are now issued to non-EOD units such as Battle Company 5-20 Infantry to aid in the discovery of IEDs and weapons caches.

Since the onset of the Afghan War in 2001, homemade bombs have increasingly become the insurgent’s weapon of choice here in Afghanistan and certainly their most effective weapon. Almost 60 percent of all coalition forces wounded or killed in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001 have been due to IEDs, according to a May 2011 report from the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, a U.S. Department of Defense organization located in Washington D.C.

To complicate matters, insurgents in Afghanistan have been increasingly constructing IEDs to circumvent simple metal detectors. Some IEDs contain rudimentary materials such as wooden boards, foam rubber, and plastic containers. The finished product contains very little metal making it difficult for a traditional metal detector to pick up, but not for the MineHound with its ground penetrating radar.

Increasingly compact, collapsible, light-weight metal detectors, such as the MineHound and Gizmo, are finding IEDs with more frequency than ever before, all of which has reduced the number of injuries or deaths to Afghan civilians, ANA and ISAF troops. In the hands of an infantry platoon, or similar-type unit, they are also being used to find weapons caches which often provide the insurgency with ample arms to fight for weeks or months.

“In the orchards (the MineHound and Gizmo are) good because that’s where they often hide the caches,” said Barajas. “So far we’ve found two caches with the Gizmo and Minehounds, and also with the ANA helping us out with their resources.”

“It helps a lot when we’re in the orchards or going through the towns when we use the Gizmos and Minehounds because it also allows if something does get missed by sight it will pick it up,” said Williams. “That’s what makes the Gizmo and Mine Hound so important. It helps make sure people are not being taken out of the fight … (that) you’re keeping them in.”

Prayers for Sgt. Ristau

The many folks who have joined us in supporting the soldiers of the 5-20 Battle Company during their yearlong deployment in Afghanistan have poured out their hearts and prayers for Sgt. Michael Ristau.

Here are just a few of their notes to Micheal’s family, friends and fellow soldiers:

From Donna Blankenship:

Almighty Father, we ask that You will wrap your loving arms around the family and friends of Michael Eugene Ristau. This brave, young man was taken from us in battle Lord. May his wife Elizabeth realize that many hearts are saddened at this news. May she know that there is no death to true believers Jesus. Elizabeth, and her precious son Hyle, will be reunited with her beloved Michael in heaven.

We also remember Pvt. Dakota C. Vojta and Pvt. Teddy Wilson who were injured in the same battle Lord. We humbly request that You will place Your healing hands upon them bringing them back to full health. May Your peace, calm and love be with these injured soldiers Christ.

May each of us humbly remember that these young men put their lives, and health, on the line for our freedoms and those less fortunate in this world. Bless their lives and the lives of their families. In His name we pray, amen.

It is written in Matthew 5:8-9: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.”

From Kathy Couch:

I am so sorry to hear this. Michael and his family are in my prayers. Thanks for the information. It is difficult to send out this kind of news.

From Marianne Teubner:

I am so sorry to hear about Michael and will keep him, his family, and all of our soldiers in my prayers.

From Carol McQueen:

Thank you for the message. My tears will help no one but never the less I shed them.

From Dianne Graham:

Oh, how very heartbreaking. My prayers for Sgt Ristau, his family, and fellow soldiers—and for you both as you hold his spirit, and the community in care. Thank you for sending his picture.

Risteau memorial service in Afghanistan July 22

Two fellow Soldiers honor their fallen friend, Sgt. Michael E. Ristau, during a memorial at Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar, in Panjwa’i district, July 22, 2012. Ristau was killed in action while serving in 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

NOTE: if you would like to share your thoughts and prayers, please post a comment here.

The Baby Boom Continues …

Another baby has been born to a Battle Company soldier!

Let’s welcome Gage Talon Hinman, born July 1, 2012, at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He is the second son of Spc. Daniel Hinman and his wife, Tiffany, and joins his older brother, Balian, 2, and two sisters, Angelina, 11, and Jenna,5.

The Hinmans, both natives of the Syracuse, NY, area were expecting Gage to arrive on June 22 so his soldier-dad arranged for his mid-deployment R&R leave in order to be home for the big day with a few days of ‘dad” time before returning to duty.

But Gage didn’t show up until 9 days later, July 1 instead of June 22. So right after bringing Gage and his wife home from the hospital, Hinman had to board a plane and head back to his post in Afghanistan. Family bonding will be continued in December when he returns.

Home in Florida at last 07-08-2012

On Independence Day, July 4, 2012, we received a note from the mother of one of our Battle Company soldiers, Ivy Walsh Ladyko, about the journey to freedom for young puppy who was born in the middle of a southern Afghanistan war zone and taken in by Battle Company soldiers. They named her Chloe.

This is the story of one private, her son, who fell in love with this puppy, and took over the job of caring for her. He found support from soldiers, his family, a volunteer organization back in the states and an unnamed friendly contractor that altogether transformed her Independence Day journey to freedom from a dream into a reality.

Mrs. Ladyko said:

“I feel compelled to share the amazing story that happened today…the dedication of a true American war hero. Chloe’s soldier is a young private … fighting for our country. We were not sure we would be able to get to Chloe given their location but he found a way to bring her to KAF with him.

Once he got there … the local guy was not able to get in the gate and the soldier could not get out unarmed. He walked around for hours carrying Chloe in her crate trying to find a way … with little to no sleep … in 100 degree weather … he was not going to give up on getting his girl Chloe home.

Keep in mind if the wrong person saw him with the dog … she could be taken and put down.

With many tears, fear, frustration, phone calls, and tireless efforts … a contractor came through for us and met Chloe’s daddy in the middle of the night to pick her up. She is now safe … thank you soldier for not giving up … a true American hero…”

Chloe is now safe in her new home at Mrs. Ladyko’s Florida residence being hugged by her soldier who is still home on R&R leave! Thanks to all the soldiers (Battle Company and others along the way) who made her freedom possible.

Chloe arrived at her new home in Florida Sunday evening. Home at last!

UPDATE: Chloe’s soldier hugged her a lot when he said goodbye July 14th and returned to duty in Afghanistan. Look for a picture of their goodbye moment in the gallery below. Chloe will wait in the safety of her new Florida home for his return in December. Visit his mom’s (Ivy Walsh Ladyko) Facebook page for many more pictures.

Chloe’s story happened in part because of a civilian group based in Texas, the Puppy Rescue Mission.

“It’s so funny how something as simple as a puppy can make even the hardest, toughened soldier melt upon a few kisses to the face.” PRM’s mission is to help soldiers bring their battle buddies home.

The primary mission of Puppy Rescue Mission is to raise funds and assist various organizations which help soldiers bring their furry friends home from war. While PRM’s primary mission is to assist soldiers and their furry friends, PRM will also, from time to time, assist an organization in re-homing a stray animal.

Due to the recent tragedy of the nation’s beloved TARGET, PRM has added to its mission that PRM is pushing for ALL animal owners to microchip their animals to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. Target’s death will not be in vain as many good things will come from what happened.

PRM will push forward and continue in its efforts to help soldiers hoping that one day our nation will become a no-kill nation. Until then, PRM will continue to do all that it can to help the animals both in our own country as well as in Afghanistan.

The Puppy Rescue Mission is a Public 501(c)(3) Non-Profit organization, PO Box 1516, Celina, TX 75009. Contributions are tax deductible.

Their website: THE PUPPY RESCUE MISSION/

“A dog does not discriminate. They do not care who you are, what you look like or what you do. The only thing in life they ask for is a little food to keep in their belly, some cool refreshing water to drink, and a pat on the head every now and then. I think we could learn a lesson or two from them. Someone with the most basic of needs that can give back the amount of love that they do – it’s pretty damn impressive if you ask me.”

~Spc. George M. Zaleuke