U.S. Africa Command staff members came together for a luncheon to celebrate International Women's Day on Kelley Barracks, March 8, 2012.
The event highlighted the principles of the recently released U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security, which is currently in the process of being incorporated into the operations, exercises and security cooperation activities of U.S. combatant commands.
The goal of the NAP is to empower half of the world's population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.
The event, attended by military and civilians affiliated with the command, focused on the theme, "Operationalizing Women, Peace and Security Principles in the DoD," and included lessons from U.S. Marine Corps Female Engagement Teams.
The luncheon was organized by the AFRICOM Women, Peace and Security Working Group (WPSWG). The WPSWG is a consultative resource within the command that addresses gender issues and assists with NAP implementation of training, operations, exercises, and security cooperation activities. The group serves as the focal point within the command for issues related to women, peace and security, and the related NAP requirements for the Department of Defense.
The objectives of the WPSWG are consistent with national guidance and U.S. Africa Command strategy and objectives.
"We advocate for the professionalism and expanded capacity of African militaries through activities and engagements that incorporate equal recruitment, training, retention and promotion opportunities for all genders," said Karen Hansis, AFRICOM Theater Engagement and Synchronization Division and the event coordinator. "Our recommendations are consistent with commander's intent, respectful of our partners' cross-cultural differences and responsive to partner nation demand signals."
A roundtable discussion highlighted the valuable role women play in DoD activities in advancing global peace and security. The success of the Marine Corps' Female Engagement Teams (FET) was used as a practical example of optimizing women's unique capabilities to enhance overall mission effectiveness.
Members in attendance addressed some of their questions to the guest speakers, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Cashman and Captain Natalie Alen, who shared their experiences of the FET program. While Cashman was physically present at the roundtable discussion, Alen provided answered to questions via video teleconference (VTC).
Among the topics discussed were how to initiate FETs and keep them running; how to properly prepare and embed them in combat and how to prepare their male counterparts to view them as equal in combat.
It is very important to integrate them beforehand into training pipelines before embedding them in combat teams, said Cashman.
Because FET in combat is a fairly new concept, according to Alen, getting the training needed ahead of time and building camaraderie before the integration of FETs could make a big difference. Furthermore, she said cultural training and awareness of the deployed location is also critical to FET success.
Attendees noted FET contributions to the success of a variety of missions were a result of a unique capacity that, if developed, could have significant implications for U.S Africa Command's missions in support of peace, security and stability in Africa.
Pamela Bellamy, a member of the AFRICOM strategic communications team, said her take-away from the event is that in every exercise, operation and when planning engagement on the continent, AFRICOM planners should start thinking of how to also interact with women in the militaries of partner African nations.
You can also have the military or women in that particular unit to do some sort of community outreach, so they are interacting with the women in the community," said Bellamy. "We can build ideas like this into our ongoing planning, and we can start now."
She further explained why engaging with African women is vital and it could play a crucial role in the future of the continent.
"Africa has tremendous human resources, and one of the things that I've seen, working in Africa, is that the women in Africa are an extraordinary resource and they can make a significant contribution to the future of their countries, particularly to the military and the civil society," Bellamy said. "If we can assist our partners in increasing the number of women in the military who are professionally trained, and increase the number of women working with the African militaries, Africans - both women and men - will benefit countries."
After the luncheon some of the attendees said they learned firsthand the role of FETs, and women in general, in promoting military-to-military partnerships, peace, stability and security around the globe.
"It is an incredible opportunity to hear about different things going on in different environments, such as Iraq and Afghanistan as we move toward the continent, and how we can take these lessons learned from the Female Engagement Team and we can employ them on the continent," said Captain Suzzie Thomas, SOCAFRICA.
While emphasizing the importance of the event to AFRICOM's mission, the organizer of the luncheon said it illustrates one way the principles of the recently released U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security can apply to U.S. Africa Command.
"This is especially important with the forthcoming DOD Instruction requiring COCOM implementation and integration of five principles: National Integration and Institutionalization; Participation in Peace Processes and Decision be incorporated into command operations, exercises and security cooperation activities," Hansis said. "I am happy to say that the command already incorporates these principles in a number of areas and has been recognized by OSD as the model for other COCOMs for this issue."