A concept that proved widely successful developed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may soon have female Marines back in the Middle East alongside infantry troops.

The Camp Pendleton, California-based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has created its own Female Engagement Team while underway, training a small group of women female Marines as advisers and liaisons uniquely poised to cut through cultural sensitivities surrounding gender. It's the first time the concept has been revived after the Marine Corps disbanded its last FETs in Afghanistan in 2012, when local troops the Afghan National Security Forcestook on the mission. had taken over  the women had done.

During the wars, Marine FETs — much like Army Lioness teams — deployed in small detachments with male infantry units in order to collect information from families and communicate with women without breaking cultural taboos. For the Marines, whose ground combat jobs remain closed to women, work on a FET was considered the closest a female Marine could get to infantry work. The Marines dissolved the last FETs in Afghanistan in 2012, saying Afghan National Security Forces had taken over tasks the women had done.But wWhile combat deployments have formally ended, the need for such teams female engagement teams to help with military training and advising with Middle Eastern partners remains strong as Marines continue female engagement teams to help with military training and advising with Middle Eastern partners, said Lt. Col. Steve Kahn, operations officer for the 15th MEU.

"In terms of women needing to be available for screening women at airports, or female law enforcement for the same reasons or things on those lines, It's an area of the partner militaries that is increasing due to its value and the shortfalls they've had in the past," Kahn said. "So for us, where we are significantly further down that path, it's just kind of a normal reachout for them."

At Kahn's previous post at Marine Corps Central Command (Forward), he saw requests for support from female troops regularly get sent to U.S. Special Operations Forces. But with who, with no women in their ranks, the command had no way to fulfill them, he said. The requests would occasionally get passed onto MEUs in the region, deployed Marine expeditionary units, but they would often go unanswered, Kahn said, because the units weren't prepared for those missions, he said.  MEUs "were unable to support those requests because they weren’t prepared for it."

Members of a Female Engagement Team speak with a local Afghan man during a patrol in Marjah.

Photo Credit: Cpl Marionne T. Mangrum/Marine Corps

When Kahn was got assigned to the 15th MEU, he said he wanted to change that make sure the unit was prepared. When After the MEU unit deployed in May, he teamed up with a female Marine lieutenant and captain to begin recruiting enlisted women for a FET. They emphasized the need for female Marines who were personable, outgoing and confident enough to operate in cultures where female troops are rare and men are not used to working directly with women.

They quickly found themselves with 25 enthusiastic volunteers from a variety of military occupational specialties ranging The FET's Marines hail from fields ranging from cyber network operation to public affairs.  spectrum of jobs and units across the MEU. From these, tThey selected 17 women for the mission and divided them into two smaller teams.

Only one of the Marines, a staff noncommissioned officer, had ever been deployed with a FET before, said 1st Lt. Jennifer Mozzetta, the FET's assistant team leader.

"She talked to the Marines in the beginning about her experiences and what it means to be not only to be a Marine and a female Marine to go out in these situations where you are expected to go out into the partner nations and be able to identify and relate to other women," Mozzetta said. "And sShe talked about the scrutiny we’re all under, and to bear in mind as we go out, we represent the Marine Corps. And that’s what we first and foremost are when we go out on these detachments."

When they began training began, they focused on it emphasized basic infantry tactics essentials, Mozzetta said 1st Lt. Jennifer Mozzetta, the FET's assistant team leader for the FET

"We started with basic marksman training to see if they can handle basic weapons systems they haven’t touched since boot camp, to see if they could pick up the idea and concepts, and more importantly teach it back," she said. "[We wanted] to see if they could pick up the idea and concepts, and more importantly teach it back." 

The FET also linked up teamed up with the MEU's reconnaissance detachment and law enforcement Marines element for marksmanship and weapons manipulation training. They also and took combat lifesaver courses from the unit's medical staff. As the FETs are tasked for specific missions, he said the training will become more tailored.  As the MEU fields specific requests from partner nations for support from female Marines, Kahn said training may become more tailored to specific mission sets.

Cpl. Elize McKelvey shoots at her target during training aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex. McKelvey is a production specialist who is working on a Female Engagement Team while deployed with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Anna Albrecht/Marine Corps

The unit has yet to deploy a FET, due in part to the recent passage of the month of Ramadan, in which Muslim nations' normal work schedules are relaxed. But Kahn said the MEU has already fielded requests from Middle Eastern countries for FET support. While he Kahn can't name specific nations the unit will deploy FETs to due to operational security concerns, Kahn said he's confident the teams will spend time off the ship soon.

When the MEU returns from deployment late this year or early next, the leaders plan to detail write an after-action report on the FET's mission so more units heading to sea can their execution of the FET concept in an after-action report so that more deploying MEUs can develop their own teams. 

Capt. Tyler Balzer, a spokesman for Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations, said he was not aware of any other unit currently deploying with FETs.

As Marines deploy to theaters across the globe for security cooperation or training and crisis response missions, Mozzetta said it's possible the concept could extend beyond the possibility exists to adapt the FET concept beyond its use in the Middle East, Mozzetta said.

"I believe that the FET not only broadens capabilities but reach out to populations we’ve never been able to reach out to before," she said. "You open the doors to access information, building relationships , open brand new doors... I think that applies anywhere."

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