The Marine concentration in one part of the country as opposed to Army units, which are spread across Afghanistan has yielded a pride of place. As it did in Anbar, the Corps is sending some of its most talented young officers to Helmand.
The result has been a degree of experimentation and innovation unseen in most other parts of the country. Although they account for half of the Afghan population, women had been avoided by military forces, particularly in the conservative south, because it is regarded as taboo for women to interact with males with whom they are not related. In an effort to reach out to them, the Marines have established "female engagement teams."
Made up principally of female Marines who came to Afghanistan to work in support jobs, the teams accompany combat patrols and seek to sit down with women in villages. Working with female translators, team members answer questions, dispense medical assistance and identify reconstruction needs.
Master Sgt. Julia Watson said the effort has had one major unexpected consequence. "Men have really opened up after they see us helping their wives and sisters," she said.
Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie and a smile with an Afghan child while serving with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission, Feb. 9, in Fara province. 2Lt. Shaffer is team leader.