CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Sure, every Marine is a rifleman, but the U.S. Marine Corps female engagement team is dedicated to a set of principles, one of which states, “the best weapons for counterinsurgency do not fire bullets.” Instead, these Marines rely on an ability to communicate and engage face-to-face with the women and children in Afghanistan in an effort to improve stability within war-torn communities.
Members of FET 12-1 completed final engagement training at Camp Pendleton, Jan. 11, to prepare for their upcoming spring deployment with I Marine Expeditionary Force.
The Adviser Training Cell here provided the FET with a military operations on urban terrain facility, or Afghan mock town, designed to resemble an environment authentic to what the FET is likely to experience during deployment. Role players acted out various scenarios, which represented specific checkpoints when the Marines are expected to build certain levels of rapport with the Afghan community.
The initial encounter tested the Marines’ ability to use their interpreter effectively, overcome language barriers, and complete an objective in 60 minutes with limited supplies. During the second and third scenarios, the Marines taught hygiene and first aid.
“We’re very lucky and privileged ATC provides us with all this training,” said Sgt. Angela Arounerangsy, FET member. “I think it’s going to be worse out there, but to have a taste of something, just a little dose of that medicine … it’ll go a long way.”
In an environment where every detail of demeanor is up for interpretation, the Marines not only have to remain conscious of their surroundings, but aware of themselves and how their actions can be misconstrued. Everything from the way they handle their weapon to the way they carry on a conversation is crucial to mission success. Broken trust is mission failure.
“The worst thing that can happen is being asked to leave the compound or being shut off from the community,” Arounerangsy said. “It means we didn’t accomplish our mission.”
The FET focused on details such as gear placement, handling the rifle in a non-threatening manner while maintaining friendly body language and avoiding any potential confrontation language barriers may cause.
“We definitely have to be conscious of where our weapons are,” said Cpl. Susan Winkler, FET member. “We’re there to help them and to comfort them, so we definitely have to keep that in mind.”
To an Afghan woman or child, a doctor, teacher, midwife and friend are shoes the FET may have to fill if and when the situation calls.
“It puts an interesting perspective on the mission,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Cindy Montoya, FET member and corpsman “You have to balance all these roles. You have to realize when you have to be a rifleman and when you have to be a friend. I feel, regardless of the challenges we had, we still did well.”
After nearly five months of rigorous and extensive training, the girls agreed their bond is unbreakable.
“Even in these three days, we have a better idea of what our mission is and even though it’s scary and chaotic, overall we feel excited about doing this,” Montoya said. “This is a great opportunity. This is something I’ll probably never do again in my military career, so I feel really, really lucky to be with such a great group of girls and do this.”