The Marine’s new female engagement teams

From the NYT

As envisioned, the teams will work like American politicians who campaign door to door and learn what voters care about. A team is to arrive in a village, get permission from the male elder to speak with the women, settle into a compound, hand out school supplies and medicine, drink tea, make conversation and, ideally, get information about the village, local grievances and the Taliban.

On patrols, the women will carry M-4 rifles, which are shorter and more maneuverable than the military’s standard M-16s, but once inside an Afghan compound, and with Marine guards posted outside, they have been instructed, assuming they feel safe, to remove their rifles and take off their intimidating “battle rattle” of helmets and body armor.

In my opinion the article implies that these woman are being treated less-equal than the male Marines when behind the wire, but isn’t it standard operating procedure to remove armor and helmet?

UPDATE: As some commenters realized, I misinterpreted “Afghan compound” to mean inside their base of operations, not inside a native compound.

[ Many thanks to Mik for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Fellows,

    A compound is never considered “inside” the wire. You are still in indian country. You CANNOT trust the Afghans ever. Not ever. For no reason. never. I kid you not.

    The idea has merit though. until women in Afghanistan are freed, that place will never be secured.

    As an aside, the Indian Army sent a whole Company (?) of women security forces to Liberia where they have worked out remarkably well.

    Best regards,

  • wylie

    The removal of body armor and helmet is standard with “information gathering” operations, it helps make the locals feel at ease.

    it will be interesting to see how this program performs, in my experience most females in Afghanistan dont come out side when coalition forces are in town with or with out the presence of females.

    female interpreters maybe hard to come by as well, but they will have to cross that bridge when they come to it.

  • b

    It depends on the tactical situation. I took my body armor, helmet, and sunglasses off to look more “human” and so the villagers could relate to me and this would make communicating easier. I would have a guards or PSD outside. Also I had ANA with me, interpreter(s), and food and chia to create friendly environment. Previous, I would have a team sweep the area to secure it. It might be seem demeaning to some here in America, but in some areas in the world, this will be the first time they see women with weapons, of a different ethnic (European or Africa) background or be unit commanders. You have to adapt to the local environment.

  • David

    Not necessarily. It’s speaking of being inside of an Afghan compound, which means that you may still be in a hostile environment. Sounds like “outside the wire,” just within a defensive perimeter. As a former Civil Affairs Soldier, that’s where I spent most of my days. Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’, all cool, and giving kids some notebooks outside of the school.

  • prodromos

    Bad idea . The Taliban will concentrate their efforts towards these teams . If they succeed in capturing one team of women , then they will do atrocious things to them .
    Actually I believe that it is very wrong for women to be in the army . It is worst to put them in the line of fire . They can be in relatively safe areas . Just my opinion .

  • Tahoe

    I think the article is saying that the women can remove their battle-rattle when in an Afghan compound, talking to the locals; they’re not talking about being at a FOB or a US/Coalition compound.

    I think this is a good idea if we’re going to get Afghanistan back on track where they were before the Taliban–increasing women’s rights, getting things moving forward out of the 14th century again.

  • Phil

    That is sort of insulting to the women. Either you keep their lives protected or you don’t let them go.

  • Dano

    I wouldn’t call it “less equal”, just different. Marines of a feminine gender have always been treated differently by their male counterparts, as evident by their labels “WM”s and so forth. However, that doesn’t imply they are in anyway inept on a professional level. On duty they are given the same authority and respect their earned ranks command; the Corps sees to it all members conduct themselves professionally in accordance to the Corps values and the UCMJ.

    I don’t see how the females are being treated less equally in your article. What I see is an out reach program to extend the “hearts and minds” philosophy to the often neglected Iraqi women. As long as personal safety requirements are met, it appears they are given the liberty to temporarily disarm themselves to connect with local females, thus strengthening any diplomatic bonds. Interacting with local women in country is much different than say picking up a casual conversation with a female co-worker here. They have been treated like a piece of property for so long that the idea of an individual vote without their husbands consent is a new concept. I think this program will help improve relations with that forgotten demographic.

    As far as the M4 vs the M-16 for the females go, most supporting personnel or MOS’s with supporting roles were given M9s and M4s for logistical reasons. When I was transitioning out of the Corps in 05 the M4 became more ubiquitous with supporting staff members as the M9 just “wasn’t doing it” for them.

    I’d personally love to have been an issued an M4. The long A2 stock works fine during qual but damn it sucks when you add another 3 inches to the LOP due to body armor! Seeing how most females aren’t 6ft with knuckles dragging, the shortened stock of the M4 would outweigh any cons regarding any engagements within the typical 50-100m range.

  • Lance

    I dont think women should be in most combat teams. While satistics prove that women can be better shots many also link harder pysicological problems. I do agree with issuing them carbines the full length rifle are too big for some women outhere.

  • Ted

    It’s actually pretty common to take off your body armor and rifle when you’re having tea with the locals, there really isn’t anything new about that. Having female teams to connect with the female half of the local population is a good move, locals tend to get upset when males are talking to the women. Winning hearts & minds is what it’s all about.

  • I don’t believe the “compound” referred to is the unit’s base of operations, but rather the compound that the Afghans live in, which tend to be walled, gated, compounds with one or more buildings inside. Normally, while on patrol most personnel do not remove k-pots, battle-rattle, etc., although an officer or senior NCO might while having tea, or otherwise engaging the locals.

    These female Marines are being instructed to do so specifically to do so to remove any doubt that they are, indeed, women, and so allowed to socialize with the female members of the household.

  • adamr

    I’m really confused as to what you are saying in the last sentence. I would give my opinion, but I had many bad experiences with female Marines.

    • Guys, thanks for the info. Yes I misinterpreted “Afghan compound” to mean inside their base of operations, not inside a native compound.

  • viper5552

    my take on weather or not someone should be permitted to serve in the military and in what capacity is this: if they pass the training same as anyone else, they should be permitted to serve in the same capacity. passage of training is the best indicator of combat readiness one may reasonably ask of any individual. if women can pass the buck i say send em to the front.

  • Jim

    Strange way to phrase it, I agree. Perhaps she’s trying to report the bias covertly, or perhaps its just her own bias showing through!

  • subase

    Sounds like a great idea. Afghans don’t even like men to see their women or even ask about them much less talk to them.

  • spence

    Leave this work to the professionals, The Green Berets.

  • ParatrooperJJ

    Viper – That’s the problem with the current system, women do not have to meet the same standards.