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Female Medical Special Operations Troopers Play Important Role in Success

Story by Spc. Daniel Love
Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan Public Affairs

Medical engagements organized and conducted by Afghan National Security Forces with the assistance of special operations, play a big role in development throughout the country of Afghanistan.

Female medical soldiers assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan, prepare medical supplies to treat an Afghan female child during a recent medical engagement in the village of Kematay, Afghanistan.

These aid programs not only allow Afghans to receive care for problems that may have been around for quite some time, they also provide education on how to take better care of themselves in the future.

Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan medical teams have provided care to over 10,000 Afghans, more than 1,500 of which were women, throughout the country since April 1, in such locations as Sangin, Maruf, Keshay and Chamkani.

Due to cultural differences in U.S. and Afghan societies, leaders had to organize teams of medical personnel who could provide treatment to everyone.

While men commonly make up the majority of the patients at medical engagements, the goal is to provide treatment to anyone who needs it. The CJSOTF-A employs one Female Treatment Team of six servicemembers that is broken down into three teams of two to ensure their success in this mission.

“Women in Afghanistan are prohibited from seeing male doctors, so we have our work cut-out for us,” said a FTT member. “They are apprehensive at first, but once a town sees that it’s not a man with a stethoscope and an aid bag, women line up for treatment.”

The lack of local female doctors has led to dire conditions for the overall health situation of women in Afghanistan. FTTs were formed after several unintentionally male-only MEDCAPs were conducted.

“Under Taliban rule, female professionals including medical workers were forced to quit working or faced violence,” said an FTT member. “We try to act as a visual example of the female professional. We often notice that when we arrive, people are shocked to see females working.”

Another difficulty that FTTs commonly work around is the language barrier. Few women in southern Afghanistan speak English.

“When we don’t have female interpreters, which is pretty much all of the time, we have a young male interpret through a sheet or a door,” said a special operations medical officer. “This helps the woman feel at ease and more likely to tell us everything that is wrong so we can provide the maximum amount of assistance.”
According to a cultural expert here, the cultural necessity for a woman to provide another woman medical care dates back thousands of years for the Afghan culture, even before the society was introduced to Islam.

The religion, which spread very quickly throughout the Middle East and adjacent regions of the world hundreds of years ago, generally attempted to assimilate the acquired culture into the Islamic way of life, though many traditions and practices were often kept to preserve a sense of tribal or ethnic independence, he explained.

Usually, and this holds especially true in Afghanistan, a woman’s relationship to men is limited to her father, father-in-law, spouse and male children. The idea of another man even speaking to a hypothetical Islamic female is offensive, and the idea of a man touching or being in presence of a woman in a vulnerable position or style of dress (such as in a medical examination,) would be a complete absurdity and cultural insult, the cultural expert said.

In addition to medical attention, the FTT also provides education covering the basics of preventive medicine and hygiene.

“Even without consistent care, women who wash their hands, drink water and brush their teeth will be healthier than those who don’t,” said a medical sergeant assigned to the CJSOTF-A. “Sometimes all they need is a little bit of information to improve the overall quality of their lives.”

While the FTTs have treated hundreds of women across Afghanistan, numbers suggest that many more do not show up for treatment, even if they need it. FTT Soldiers said that they hope this trend will change with future MEDCAPs.

“It’s the same back home; people will recommend a good doctor to a friend,” said a special operations medical sergeant. “As word of mouth spreads, it’s just a matter of time before we show up and any woman who needs it will not be afraid to be our patient.”