Female soldiers bend the definition of “non-combat” jobs

Posted By Tony Leys On October 5, 2010 @ 10:39 pm In Iowa National Guard,News |

Fort Irwin, Calif. – Pvt. Tanya Redinbaugh shrugged and smiled when asked how it’s possible that her job is classified as non-combat. “It’s just because we’re females,” she said.

Pvt. Tanya Redinbaugh of Neola talks to Afghan women.

The Iowa National Guard soldier and two female partners carry M-4 assault rifles. They wear body armor and Kevlar helmets. They expect to spend most of the next nine months living on a combat outpost in the Afghanistan mountains, along with scores of men.

The three women make up a “female engagement team.” The team will try to connect with Afghan women, whose culture would require refusing to answer questions from strange men.

“They’ll disclose information to us that they never would disclose to a male,” said one of her partners, Pvt. Tasha Conger, 20, of Seymour.

Redinbaugh, 24, of Neola, expected to become a truck driver when she enlisted in the Guard. Then she found out she would be part of the new team. When asked if she volunteered for the new duty, she shared a standard Army joke: “I was ‘volun-told.’”x

About a half-dozen female engagement teams have been set up among the Iowa Guard’s 2nd Combat Brigade, whose 2,800 troops are wrapping up an intense training program this week.

The soldiers’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Steve Boesen, said the line between combat and non-combat positions continues to blur, partly because all troops in a place like Afghanistan face risks.

Boesen said the female engagement teams face most of the same dangers that front-line infantry soldiers face, but he said the women’s job isn’t considered quite the same level. “It’s not combat in the sense that if we have to kick in a door, they’re not the ones doing the kicking and being the first ones through that door,” he said.

Redinbaugh and Conger went out on a practice mission Tuesday afternoon with three dozen male soldiers. The soldiers’ mission was to provide security for a meeting of about 25 leaders and merchants at a village next to a U.S. combat outpost. The scenario included the possibility of encountering snipers or roadside bombs.

Conger also serves as a medic, ready to help injured soldiers at the scene of a fight.

The female soldiers talked to female merchants, who were seeking loans to restart a market that had been shuttered by Taliban intimidation. Without help from Redinbaugh and Conger, the burka-clad merchants might have shunned U.S. help, slowing efforts to draw the village away from Taliban influence.

The female soldiers are practicing the Pashto language with each other, and they’re adapting to talking with women who are totally cloaked with burkas. The fact that you can’t see their facial expressions makes it even tougher to understand what they’re saying, so you have to concentrate on other cues, Redinbaugh said.

Redinbaugh asked the merchants questions through a male interpreter. The merchants responded to the male interpreter, but that apparently was OK, as long as the question originated with a woman.

“You can be the first customer,” a clothing-kiosk owner told Redinbaugh through the interpreter.

“I’d love that,” the camouflage-clad soldier replied.

Article printed from Des Moines Register Staff Blogs: http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr

URL to article: http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2010/10/05/female-soldiers-bend-the-line-of-combat-jobs/

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