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Rockwall soldier trains Afghan women national police

Jerry Hogan

“The Military View” column by Heath resident Jerry Hogan, US Army Lt. Co. (retired). Several years ago I wrote an article about a young lady from Rockwall named Jennifer Baker. She is the daughter of Wesley and Michelle Baker, a 2004 graduate of Rockwall High School, a person who went on to college after graduating to play college soccer for a year, and then a young lady who said, “I felt like I was getting a calling, like something I had to do, something I knew I had to be a part of,” so she quit college and joined the US Army.

Now that story is not atypical as many young Soldiers can tell a similar experience and why they became a warrior rather than a student. What is unusual, however, is that Jennifer, a 120 pound, five foot three inch, attractive young lady, joined the US Army’s famous 82nd Airborne Division and has been in this unit ever since finishing her basic training in 2006. Well, you may say, “what’s the big deal” because you know the Army now has women in most of its units? The big deal is that Jennifer is assigned to an Infantry Rifle Company of the famous 508th Infantry Regiment; has spent one tour of duty in Iraq; is currently in Afghanistan at a fighting Forward Operating Base (FOB) with her Rifle Company; has completed both parachute training and Jumpmaster school where she learned how to be responsible for an entire plane load of parachutists; has been on foot patrols in Afghanistan with her male counterparts seeking out the bad guys; and, on the side, is helping to train female members of the Afghanistan National Police organization. She has already been promoted to Sergeant and is close to her next move upwards to Staff Sergeant. Now that is not the Army that I bet most of you remember!!

Since Jennifer is involved with the training of the female Afghan National Police (ANP) recruits, I asked her how she got involved with that mission. As she explained, “There is a US contract organization here at our FOB, the Dynacorp group, which has been hired to train the ANP and they work with them on a daily basis. However, because of the Moslem Law and culture, they are not allowed to talk with or touch any female. When we arrived at the base, they approached me to see if I would assist them with their training. Now they train me and I pass that information along to the women recruits in the ANP. The women we are training are the first group of females in the southern part of Afghanistan to become part of the ANP, so this is really trail blazing stuff.”

In Afghanistan, the ANP have a dual role where on one hand they are charged with normal police type activities in regards to criminal type actions, but also they are part of the Afghanistan security force that is involved with seeking out the terrorists. Jennifer said, “The ANP do a lot of joint missions with the US forces as well as with the Afghan National Army (ANA). It is really a big help to us that both the ANP and the ANA go on patrols with us and work with us to find the terrorists as they are simply able to find out more information than we are because of their culture, knowledge of the area and of the tribal people, and familiarity with the geography. We are mentoring and training the ANP so they can hopefully one day find and fight the Taliban on their own.”

Muslim women in Afghanistan do not have the same freedoms as women in America. As Jennifer says, “The women here have very little acceptance by men in the work force. The women here still have to keep their faces covered, even as a police woman. The Burkas (traditional dress) they wear go all the way to the ground so it makes it difficult to distinguish the women police officers from the local women. As of now the women stay in their police compound and deal with people coming in to file complaints or they can also be used to search female suspects. They are not allowed to patrol the streets or drive the vehicles; women here are homemakers and that is where the men want to keep them. The women stay in the house when US troops are around unless the men say they can come out. Most US Soldiers do not talk to the women because it is considered disrespectful here in Afghanistan. Our hopes are to open the door for women to prove themselves as police officers and to show the men they are capable of learning and using their knowledge to execute their mission as a member of the ANP.”

One of the questions I often get is “How do our people in Iraq and Afghanistan live?” Sergeant Baker responded to this question with “We stay in what we call B-Huts which are basically long wooden buildings that house sixteen Soldiers. That means eight sets of bunk beds and two Soldiers per ‘room.’ We have 4×8 sheets of plywood nailed up to give us a little privacy as they act as walls to make a separate room. We make a door by hanging up a blanket or poncho. We have a good dining facility that is contracted by civilians and we have a good gym very similar to 24 Hour Fitness that has everything we need to stay in shape. We have eight computers and four phones with a time limit of 30 minutes on the computer and 20 minutes on the phone. We have flushing toilets and warm showers, unlike my last tour in Iraq, so I’m pretty happy with our living conditions.”

So if you are unhappy with your life here in the States, think what it is like to be an Afghan woman in Afghanistan…or an American woman over in Afghanistan fighting to help maintain our freedoms. Puts a whole new perspective on how we live, doesn’t it?

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