Java Sea - Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Mejia wiped the sweat off her brow as she leaned in to inspect a vehicle. Mejia’s sweating because she’s in Fallujah, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. Suddenly, there is incoming fire.
“I thought ‘This is it,’” said Mejia, the staff non-commissioned officer of the female engagement team (FET). “’This is finally happening. What do we do now?’”
With all the training Mejia and the FET had, the team reacted in second nature. They located the enemy. They sighted in and on command they engaged fire.
“FET started in Afghanistan and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,” said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Riacca Glatt, the officer in charge of the FET. “We were losing when it came to interacting with the female Muslim population. It was not appropriate for males to address the women, to look at them, to be around them. The Marine Corps saw this need to be able to interact with everyone.”
Glatt said the FET was primarily started to be culturally sensitive to local social norms when searching female Iraqis for concealed weapons during missions. It was appropriate to have a woman searching other women—and having this capability opened the door to other opportunities.
“We couldn’t do that without having female engagement teams to interact with the female population,” said Glatt. “We saw that could have more of an impact rather than just storming in with men and weaponry.”
FET has three main missions. One being subject matter expertise exchange and theater support cooperation, another being evacuation operations, tactical site exploitation, search and seizure, and another being cultural host nation integration.
FET has now incorporated the concept of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) and the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are currently on a regularly scheduled deployment to the 7th fleet area of operations and are putting the blue-green FET integration to work.
“Our deployment is all about the amphibious ready group (ARG) and MEU integration,” said Glatt. “We wanted the female engagement team to be about that as well. It’s not a Marine Corps only idea, and it shouldn’t be. The blue side brings different perspectives, capabilities and experiences to the table.”
Rushmore’s FET consists of three Sailors and nine Marines.
“This deployment is a perfect time for the female engagement team,” said Glatt. “Sailors and Marines will be together for months and have the opportunity to interact together and work with each other during our missions. It is going to give us the opportunity to showcase a side of the military that isn’t typically show-cased.”
The integrated FET had the opportunity to execute their first mission at the first Women’s Symposium held in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 10.
“This symposium brought two groups of women together,” said Glatt. “In our culture, women have been in the military for quite some time, and we merged that with a culture where women in the military is a very new concept.”
The FET shared their capabilities, experiences and challenges as women in the military. The diversity of women on the FET allowed for each woman to provide different insight.
“Being part of this event made me feel like a part of a bigger picture for women in the military everywhere,” said Leroy. “All of us on the FET dedicated ourselves to being a part of the one percent that serves in the military, but there is an even smaller percentage of females who serve. This experience allowed me to be involved with something bigger than myself. It empowered me and reassured me that women’s presence in the military is important and will be known.”
Although FET has evolved from it’s inception, they continue to train to stay prepared for any situation that may arise.
“We do a lot of physical training,” said Mejia “We also do training on weapons handling and on-ground training. We have to make sure we are always mission ready.”
Glatt said that FET also participates in discussion groups.
“We discuss what kind of topics to share, questions to ask, or how we might be able to get someone else to share their experience with us,” said Glatt.
Mejia, Glatt and Leroy all expressed that they have learned from the blue-green team integration.
“Working with the Navy has opened my eyes to a different world,” said Mejia. “It has given me the opportunity to learn from the blue side and given us all an opportunity to put our heads together and work as one. It’s allowed FET to become even better than it was intended to be in the first place.”
Rushmore, which is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), and the 13th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.