MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Two station Marines left the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., on Jan. 14, 2010, to begin their journey to Afghanistan as members of a female-only team that hopes to bridge a cultural divide.
Lance Cpl. Sorina Miller, flight clearance clerk, and Lance Cpl. Dawn Doyle, military policeman, began training in Camp Pendleton, Calif., to interact with Afghan females and children while deployed.
In the Islamic culture, it’s inappropriate for males to touch a female in public, and male Marines are discouraged from even looking at Afghan females.
The female Marines on the all-volunteer engagement teams, work alongside their male counterparts, searching women at checkpoints and on patrols, said Master Sgt. Ruben Sotelo, station manpower chief, who helped set up the deployment for the Yuma Marines.
The female engagement teams also serve as a liaison for the women of Afghanistan, providing them with basic medical care and vitamins and possibly receiving information that they might not hear from local males, said Capt. Jennifer Gregoire, who was the officer in charge of a female engagement team for 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Afghanistan from July to October 2009.
“The women were more open to communicate with Marines when the teams were with patrols,” said Gregoire, now the Marine Aircraft Group 13 adjutant here.
However, the benefits the female engagement teams provide come with some risk.
“The nature of the job is very dangerous. It’s a very high-stakes position,” said Sotelo. “The bad guys have been recruiting women, and sometimes even disabled people, to cause terror and wear suicide vests.”
Despite the danger, the two Marines are eager to take part in the program.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Miller, a 20-year-old native of River Falls, Wis. “I think it will be a good experience getting to interact with the Afghan women and be able to experience and learn their culture.”
“The whole point of enlisting was to deploy,” added Doyle, a 20-year-old native of Oshkosh, Wis.
Unlike the Lioness program, which was used in Iraq starting in 2005, no official Marine policies exist on the training or establishment of female engagement teams or a Lioness program for Afghanistan. However, the 9th Communication Battalion, which the Yuma Marines will be deploying with, started a training course for female Marines interested in the program.
In addition to standard pre-deployment training, the battalion has a four-month training cycle for the women who will serve as instructors to new volunteers for the team. The training includes a monthlong language course.
The battalion is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in March as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.