MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
To quote the Rolling Stones, “Cool, calm and collected,” that’s the impression Lance Cpl. Sorina Langer, base operations flight clearance clerk, gives off when talking to her. Who would guess, listening to her soft voice and watching her movements, that she was a previous member of a Female Engagement Team?
Langer, a 21-year-old native of River Falls, Wis., returned to the states Oct. 14, 2010, and came back to the air station Dec. 4, 2010, after an eight-month deployment to Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in support of operations there.
The FET is a milestone in United States Armed Forces history, as it has integrated females into infantry units, and for the first time combat the enemy. While females in the field are not new, the Lioness Program, which has females posted at key checkpoints in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be seen as the FET’s precursor–the FET expands a woman’s role in country.
“The key difference (between the FET and Lioness Program) is we’re more engaged with the locals, and not as much searching,” said Langer. “We’re there to create rapport with the locals and our male Marines.”
In a war where psychological operations are seen as an essential component in victory, and dealing with a patriarchal culture presents major challenges, FETs are an indispensable asset to any ground unit.
“When you see a group of male Marines they’re usually there for one purpose, and they can be very intimidating,” said Langer. “We go in there to soften up the relationship.”
While some male and even female Marines might scoff at the idea of women in a combat-heavy environment, Langer said she encountered more problems with the locals than she did with 1st and 2nd Battalions, 6th Marine Regiment, whom she worked with.
“We knew what to do, and how to do it. The Marines didn’t feel like they had to protect themselves and us,” said Langer, whereas the male locals would hit the female Marines, spit on them and make sexual slurs, translated by a linguist.
“The male Marines knew they needed us, and they knew that everyone on the FET volunteered for it,” said Langer.
Langer, nicknamed “Lil’ Mama” by her peers, did not let her gender interfere with her duties.
“Everything they wore, we wore. We went on patrols, clearing operations and missions. We didn’t know what to expect,” said Langer.
Langer didn’t just experience the physicality of field life, she also encountered its many dangers. Improvised explosive devices, firefights and snipers were common at Combat Outpost Azaidi and during patrols, a colossal change from organizing flight schedules at the air station.
“I was blown up,” said Langer, shrugging. “I have two grazes on my neck. There were times where we were in firefights and you can hear the rounds whizz past your face. It’s scary, it really is.”
For her actions, Langer earned the Combat Action Ribbon. However, other struggles besides life and death existed in her world.
“By the end of my deployment, we were able to start a school,” said Langer, who also worked with civil affairs operators in the region.
At first, the teachers were being threatened and Afghan women were frightened to come out. To top it off, the school was held inside a tent. But the Marines’ efforts ultimately paid off. Soon, the teachers were no longer being threatened. As for the school attendance, “half of them were females.”
“Last I checked with 2/6, they actually built a school building,” said Langer with a smile.
Carrying with her memories of a combat tour, an experience that few female Marines possess, Langer said she would like to continue being involved in the FET.
They want FET Marines to train newcomers, said Langer, who is hoping for another deployment.
“I think that females in the military need to step up, to stop using the fact they’re females as an excuse,” said Langer. “They need to take pride in their uniform, in their job title.”
After all was said and done, Langer revealed she had only one regret.
“I would’ve worked harder to extend my time there,” she said. “The hardest thing about deployment is not leaving your family, leaving your friends, it’s leaving the Marines out there, going back to the states and knowing they’re still there.”