In search of peace in the war-torn nation, the Marine Corps has embedded one of the first all-female engagement teams.
Suited up in more than 80 pounds of gear, Heather Sample patrols a region of Afghanistan in 104-degree heat.
Photo Credit: Kate Brooks
By Elise Jordan
It’s 2 a.m. in the pitch dark of early morning on April 14, 2010, when four female Marines reach Patrol Base Jaker in the Nawa district of Helmand—a former stronghold in Afghanistan, now tenuously calm. After an exhausting five-day journey flying from California’s Camp Pendleton, the women have finally reached their home for the next six months. They’re the first group of women ever to be stationed in Nawa.
“We honestly thought we were going to live in two-man tents, so we were pretty stoked to see barracks,” Corporal Christina Oliver tells me when I arrive at the base two weeks later. Oliver, an opera-loving rookie from Sacramento who joined the Marines in 2008, celebrated her 25th birthday on the flight over.
The 200-square-foot wooden cabin they call home reminds me of summer camp lodges, with sleeping bags on top of board-stiff cots covered with mosquito nets. Thin, floor-to-ceiling plywood sheets create a makeshift divider to give the four women privacy from the 10 or more male Marines they bunk with. The group’s leader, 29-year-old New Mexico native Sergeant Guadalupe Rodriguez—who was rejected by the Marines in 2004 after failing the shooting range test but was admitted when she reapplied two years later—convinced her commander to buy them a green nylon rug from Nawa’s local bazaar to add some color.
Outside, their barracks are concrete sinks and showers, but the clean water supply is limited, so they often rinse off using bottled water. Near the sinks are the only mirrors at the outpost, but makeup is pointless—it’ll smear immediately in the punishing 104-degree heat. “I miss my eyeliner and mascara,” says Lance Corporal Angela Pacheco, 31, a former cheerleader from Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania, who left her job at a jewelry store to join the Marine Corps when she turned 30. “We’re the first females ever to do this. It’s a challenge,” Reservist Corporal Heather Sample tells me. Sample, 22, a Southern California native, enlisted at 17 but left active duty for a year in 2009, frustrated that she was spending more time at a desk than in a combat zone.
These four women are part of the Marine’s first organized effort to send all-female units, known as female-engagement teams, into Afghanistan. Women account for only 6 percent of all 205,000 Marines, notoriously the most male-dominated branch of the armed services… Read more Here