By David VergunDecember 27, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- In Afghanistan, many Afghan women serve proudly as police officers, but they are often targeted by terrorists for breaking with cultural norms.
That's according to 1st Lt. Eva M. Gibbons, who has spent nearly nine months in and around Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, as a member of 3rd Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas.
"Part of my job is to mitigate additional risks [that] female police face daily by promoting additional security and safer means for them to travel to and from work," she said. Gibbons is a member of the Task Force Steel Police Advisory Team, whose mission it is to train, advise and assist the Afghan police in "establishing themselves in a coordinated and unified effort."
For her part, Gibbons is "dual-hatted," meaning she serves as a training advisor as well as a gender advisor. Her duties involve working with her Afghan counterparts on a daily basis, either during her visits to their places of work or their own visits to her at Operating Base Fenty.
Speaking in her role as a training advisor, she said that it's essential that the Afghan police force is properly trained and equipped and that the police follow an approved curriculum to meet the high standards necessary to provide effective security.
"I work with the Afghan training officer to ensure police receive training before deploying to their units," she said. "[We ensure they] have the necessary materials and facilities to maximize training, and [that] training centers follow the approved curriculum."
As a gender advisor, Gibbons said, she works hard to ensure a safe and smooth integration of women into the police force. That involves ensuring the availability of separate training and living facilities for women so that they can avoid violating local customs and religious practices.
"I met several strong women willing to work -- despite increased risk for female police," Gibbons said.
One of those women is 1st Lt. Yassamin, who works every day at a regional training center as a doctor. A large female training facility is under construction there, and Yassamin is looking forward to its completion. She said she is anxious to inspire other women to join the police.
"As our rotation draws to a close, I ... am encouraged by the capable and motivated Afghan officers I have had the opportunity to work with," Gibbons said. "My counterparts listened to and valued advice and shared their own experiences and culture with me."
Q: What's been the most unusual experience you had in Afghanistan?
A: Getting to understand the customs of the Afghans, which are very different than our own. For example, I had to learn to be patient. The Army mentality is "bottom line up front," which is not the way with Afghans. They expect friendly banter and hesitate to discuss business until a certain level of rapport has been established over several meetings.
Q: So is that something you found challenging?
A: At first, but now I look forward to returning to Fort Hood and applying the patience and open-mindedness I learned from my experiences in Afghanistan to my next assignment.
Q: What's been the most difficult thing for you during your rotation?
A: The separation from my 4-year-old son, Stephane, and my husband, August, who are waiting for me at Fort Hood, Texas. My husband has supported me throughout my Army career. The hardships of family members and loved ones left behind during training and deployments are often overlooked and go unappreciated by those unfamiliar with the sacrifice. I will always be grateful for their support and sacrifices, allowing me not only to serve my country but also others through my advising.
Q: Are you glad you joined the Army?
A: I grew up in a military family, with service members scattered throughout our family tree, and am excited to continue the tradition of taking pride in one's country. My father, Jeffrey Gibbons, is a retired Army sergeant major. I tried my hand at a civilian job after graduating from the University of New Hampshire, but it did not suit me. So in 2016 I applied to and was accepted to Officer Candidate School. The Army has given me a career with more meaning, sense of purpose and duty.
Q: Can you tell me about your military occupational specialty?
A: At the time of my graduation from OCS, combat MOSs were limited for women, prompting my selection of a field artillery branch detail. I fell in love with field artillery during my time at the Basic Officer Leader Course and was excited to take the role of an assistant squadron fire direction officer upon arriving at Steel Squadron in Fort Hood. Working as the squadron FDO allowed me to appreciate the amount of coordination and planning required to execute even small operations. After about seven months at the unit, we deployed to Afghanistan.
Q: Tell me about the people you serve with.
A: The support and encouragement from peers can motivate you through obstacles you never thought you could overcome. As an officer, it is imperative to encourage close bonds of trust and support among your troops. I am grateful to those who showed me the importance of strong friendships and unrestrained dedication to teamwork.
Q: Tell me a little bit about growing up in New Hampshire.
I am from a small town in New Hampshire. While growing up there, my family members deployed many times. Welcoming them home safely each time was such a blessing. It didn't occur to me then that it would soon be my turn to be in their shoes returning home to be greeted by my own family. I couldn't be prouder to follow in their steps.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)