Behind the Veil
June 27, 2012
With several military occupational specialties opening up to female Soldiers this year, there is still
one distinctly feminine mission taking place in Afghanistan: Female engagement teams, or FETs, are interacting with local women, linking them to their government resources, providing security for combat troops and spreading the International Security Assistance Force message.
FET Soldiers come from a variety of MOSs to engage with a segment of the population that wouldn't normally interact with American Soldiers. A female engagement team works with locals and security forces to accomplish a range of missions, including education, security details and humanitarian efforts.
Though FETs have been deployed to Iraq, most have served as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as the FET programs have become more popular among commanders
in the past two years.
Staff Sgt. Samira Abdullahmuhammad deployed with the 40th Engineer Battalion, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, to Afghanistan as both a 79S career counselor and the NCO in charge of the battalion's female engagement team.
"I've never done anything like that in my career," Abdullahmuhammad said. "My two previous deployments, I was a female searcher [conducting] patrols in Baghdad and [the rest of] Iraq. [As a part of the FET] I was able to do and be more involved with the partnership of the locals; it was just definitely something I wanted to be a part of. It's definitely different than anything I've been exposed to."
Female engagement teams are often grassroots operations, operated at the brigade level or lower, and each FET has a different mission. Some include communicating with Afghan women, helping Afghan women start their own businesses, working with the women of the Afghan Uniformed Police and enabling their male counterparts to collect from a wider net of human intelligence.
Volunteering for FET
Not all members of the FET volunteer to serve; some are pulled from their normal duties and asked to serve in both their primary MOS and in the FET. Others serve only with the FET and do not serve in their primary MOS during deployment with the team.
Despite the dangers of the missions, most female engagement teams consist of volunteers, and all willingly agree to serve in the FET role.
To accomplish their missions, FETs work with a security team -- usually consisting of infantry, cavalry or armor Soldiers in a platoon or company.
Staff Sgt. Grace Grilliot, the NCOIC of the FET with the 58th Military Police Company attached to 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said that during her first tour in Iraq in 2004, she didn't get to go outside the wire to interact with locals because her job as a supply sergeant meant she was relegated to the base.
During her second deployment, this time to Afghanistan, she said she wanted to make a difference by improving the lives of Afghan women. Grilliot volunteered for the FET and was able to interact with the female population every day.
"It was the easiest way to get involved with the women and the culture," Grilliot said. "Inside [a forward operating base], we don't really get to interact with the locals. But with the FET mission, that's your main focus -- to talk with the women to see what they need or want, and to help establish a relationshipwith the women."
Staff Sgt. Chanise Morgan, the NCOIC for the FET with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, said she wanted to be among the first to serve on a female engagement team.
"I volunteered because FET is new to the Army," Morgan said. "I wanted to be a part of history. I wanted to experience things that other people haven't had the opportunity to."
Morgan, who has also deployed to Iraq as a 94F computer/detection systems repairer, has served for 10
months on a female engagement team
"When I was in Iraq, I stayed in my
shop the entire time," Morgan said.
"But this time, working with the FET,
I get to go outside the wire and engage
the female population and the children.
It's very different."
Training with the FET
There has been a marked increase
in the number of FETs since 2009
when Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then
the commander of NATO forces
in Afghanistan, found FETs to be
extremely helpful to combat units.
Although incorporated into multiple
brigades during the past five years,
FETs' mission, training and duties vary
greatly depending on the unit they are
Most FETs have a selection process
that involves mental, physical and
emotional tests to ensure
Soldiers can handle the
stresses of the FET mission.
Staff Sgt. Lisa Moore volunteered
to serve with the
FET from the 4th Battalion,
17th Infantry Regiment,
1st Brigade Combat Team,
1st Armored Division, at
Fort Bliss, Texas, because
she wanted to expand her
skills. As a medic, Moore will continue
to be qualified as a 68W and will use
some of her medic skills when her
unit deploys downrange later this year.
However, her primary duty will be to
serve on the FET.
"I want to make a difference in the
Afghan community," Moore said. "I
want to go out and run missions with
the people and interact with them."
Most FETs will receive some additional
training before deployment,
though some women Soldiers are
pulled from their assignments once
downrange to assist with the FET