Whatever the outcome, the teams reflect how much the military has adapted over nine years of war, not only in the way it fights but to the shifting gender roles within its ranks. Women make up only 6 percent of the Marine Corps, which cultivates an image as the most testosterone-fueled service, and they are still officially barred from combat branches like the infantry.
But in a bureaucratic sleight of hand, used by both the Army and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan when women have been needed for critical jobs like bomb disposal or intelligence, the female engagement teams are to be “attached” to all-male infantry units within the First Marine Expeditionary Force — a source of pride and excitement for them.
“When I heard about this, I said, Oh, that’s it, let’s go,” said Cpl. Vanessa Jones, 25.
The idea for the teams grew out of the “Lioness” program in Iraq, which used female Marines to search Iraqi women at checkpoints. Over the past year in Afghanistan, the Army and Marines have assembled ad hoc female engagement teams, but the women were hastily pulled from work as cooks or engineers.