A Marine female engagement team recently wrapped up a mission in Qatar — the first for the all-women teams since the Corps disbanded them in Afghanistan three years agoa first in the nearly three years when the Corps disbanded the all-women teams in Afghanistan

A concept that originated as a way to bridge cultural and gender gaps during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now being used to forge bonds with allied nations in the Middle East. A FET female engagement team attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned from its first mission in Qatar in late August last month after more than two weeks spent training female troops in martial arts, shooting basics and other skills.

About Some 25 female members of the Qatari Internal Security Forces, who provide security for VIPs, participated in the skills exchange with nine Marine members of the FET from Aug. 6 through 23.

The training exchange originated with a request from U.S. Special Operations Command Central for female troops to work directly with the Qatari forces, said Maj. Brian Block, a spokesman for the MEU.

In Qatar, the Marines and the local forces honed medical skills, and law enforcement techniques and as well as range skills, and worked on  and elements of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, members of the FET said. 

"The doors are open to us," said 1st Lt. Jennifer Mozzetta, assistant team leader for the FET. "There were no men involved in the training. We were able to be very involved and friendly with them."

QATAR (Aug 18, 2015) U.S. Marine Cpl. Justine Woodend demonstrates the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to members of the Qatari Internal Security Forces Female VIP Protection Unit during a Subject Matter Expert Exchange in Qatar. Woodend is a motor transportation operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and a member of the Female Partner Force Engagement Team. The FPFET was comprised of U.S. Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as well as Soldiers and Sailors with Special Operations Command Central-Forward and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. During the SMEE they covered medical care, marksmanship, and personal security detail strategies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anna Albrecht/ Released)
QATAR (Aug 18, 2015) U.S. Marine Cpl. Justine Woodend demonstrates the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to members of the Qatari Internal Security Forces Female VIP Protection Unit during a Subject Matter Expert Exchange in Qatar. Woodend is a motor transportation operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and a member of the Female Partner Force Engagement Team. The FPFET was comprised of U.S. Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as well as Soldiers and Sailors with Special Operations Command Central-Forward and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. During the SMEE they covered medical care, marksmanship, and personal security detail strategies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Anna Albrecht/ Released)

Cpl. Justine Woodend demonstrates the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to Qatari female security forces. The subject mater expert exchange covered medical care, marksmanship and personal security detail strategies.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Anna Albrecht/Marine Corps

While the Marines on the FET were instructed to discuss domestic topics like their home and family lives in order to forge connections with their Qatari counterparts, this was a different kind of FET mission than those in which that saw female Marines shareding cups of tea with civilian women to foster trust in Afghanistan. 

Block said the 15th MEU's team plans to position itself to accomplish missions on both ends of the spectrum. Because of that, he said, the unit has taken to calling itself a "female partner force engagement team."

Since the FET is composed of a dozen female Marines representing a variety of specialties jobs and experience levels, Block said, "you can select [Marines] who are most appropriate for partner force engagement" or for cultural liaising, depending on the mission at hand.

For Sgt. Jeanette Ventura, an aircraft intermediate level structures mechanic, the exchange provided the chance to work on combat skills outside her own MOS and to participate in dynamic partnership building, a key mission for the MEU.

"I've been in the Marine Corps for eight years and I always love taking opportunities given to me," she said. "The exchange in itself was better than I even could have imagined. I learned a lot from the culture, as well as from the tactics that the [Qatari forces] used."

The MEU unit, which deployed in May, decided to create its own FET female engagement team while underway in order to respond to facilitate such requests, which often go unanswered due to a shortage of trained female troops in theater and able to respond. Prior to the MEU's revival of the FET concept, the units were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to allow U.S. troops to extract information from and foster relationships with local women without violating gender taboos. The last Marine FET disbanded in 2012.

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One early finding, FET members said, was that the team could have used more Marines.,as tThe nine members who went to Qatar were hugely popular with their counterparts.

"The biggest takeaway was, there was a lot of discussion about it, and eyes were watching," Mozzetta said. "It really does help foster our relationship with the Qataris."