Cultural Support Teams AKA Female Special Operations in Combat - ITS Tactical

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Cultural Support Teams AKA Female Special Operations in Combat

By Kelly Black

Hopefully the men of Afghanistan are holding on tightly to their head scarves, because American women are joining forces with their male counterparts in combat.

According to today’s post on the U.S. Army Special Operations Command has begun deploying female soldiers as part of front-line commando units. These soldiers will assist Special Forces and Ranger units by leading Cultural Support Teams (CST) which will interact with the female segments of Afghan society providing not only intelligence support but also social outreach. Approximately 30 female soldiers are already in the field.

This is good news for women who’ve wanted to serve in combat positions and have been waiting for positions to emerge. I’m excited for new service opportunities for interested and qualified female soldiers, but I’m also concerned that this new step into combat is in a part of the world that is so harmful and unforgiving towards women. I guess there is no graceful and cushy entrance into combat.

What are your thoughts on women in combat?

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  • Sam

    I see their reasoning for having women in that position. The Cultural tactics division will see a great return on this but at the same time, anytime you mix men and women, throw in type A personalities, add some combat stress and shake it up with adrenaline, you have a very confused operation, specifically when you are sending them in for the hardest tasks in the toughest areas. Putting aside the sexual issue (which is huge in itself), you also have the protector, servant mode that men naturally have and even if they can handle it, that’s a huge burden on an already dire situation. It will be very difficult to pull all this off. That said, if anyone can, it’s our finest!!!

  • Reddog

    To me, this is a very unsteady step on a very slippery slope. This puts women on the front line, and prime targets to those who would want to use them to demoralize us or bargain with us. This is not GI Jane, and I would bet they are not trained to the level of the basic infantryman, nor capable of the performing the basic skills (especially lifting and strength) of infantrymen, either. You can argue that the fighting is over, but you would only be fooling yourself. This is the first step, and you can count on their overhyped “success” to be used to justify the next step. Watch for this reasoning: They are already there, and they are already carrying guns, and are doing a great job/the same job as the guys. From the other side, this is a MOST valuable target, much like Prince Harry with his unit. It would be a GREAT p.r. coup to capture one of these women. Remember what happened to Jessica Lynch. Call me sexist, but it is still a bad idea.

    • L.A. Fields

      We can’t hide in the kitchen baking cakes while other countries are training their women to fight along side male servicemen. I will not be limited to chatting with the women of other nations or getting someone’s coffee. Teach us, train us and we will do the job. Watch our back. That’s the kind of protection we want. We don’t want you guys to throw your coat over a puddle of water for us. We want to run through that puddle. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when we send troops to foreign lands to die for democracy and equal rights, yet we want to limit the females role in combat in this country. If I get caught and my head gets cut off, so be it, at least I died doing what I wanted to do.

    • Geoff Withnell

      I have not problem with you serving in any capacity – IF you can meet the requirements. The same requirements as the male soldiers. The smae strength tests. The same obstacle courses. Carry the same combat load. There are undoubted some women at the far right end of the curve that can do this. But as a combat vetern, I would not want anyone, male or female, who couldn’t meet the requirements covering my flank.

      Geoff Withnell

  • Alpha32

    I can see both sides. Serving, I have the same concerns mentioned above. Having raised a daighter who served, I can see the female side of the fence as well. Seeing both sides is not the same as agreeing with, or understanding, the decision.

  • . . . but the argument Reddog warns against is already true: they are already there. Women drive convoys and generally serve in support roles which may not be defined as combat, but when you drive over an IED and get ambushed the definition changes pretty quick. It’s a volunteer force and everyone faces risks. If women knowingly choose to serve and protect us in this capacity, God bless ’em. If we can win some hearts and minds in the process, even better.

  • Wayne K.

    I can see both sides as well but my vote is against it. Some women would want to serve in combat and others would not. Some men want to and others would not. However, I am not too sure it is in the best interest of all concerned. There are pros and cons to any subject one wishes to discuss and this one is no exception.

  • Doc

    The cat is more or less out of the bag – it’s us Cold War-era dinosaurs that have to come terms with the reality of an asymmetrical battlefield where there isn’t a FEBA and that we can’t ‘hide’ our women from the front lines.

    SOCOM – as usual – is ahead of the curve and accepting a reality of today’s combat. We need to adapt, train, and equipment women to fight in combat and I personally believe that I will see a female infantry battalion in my lifetime.

  • john Cope

    I have no doubt that their are women who are mentally equal to men. If you go to great lengths, you can also find women who are physically equal, or even superior to their male counterparts. It is however, a scientific fact that the majority (99%)of women are more physically and medically frail than men. Besides being weaker and slower, women have many special medical needs that often cannot be provided for in a prolonged wartime environment. These same medical issues could also taint judgement and performance on a monthly basis. On top of all these medical and physical deficiencies you then have to look at the additional logistical complications that come along with berthing, showers, and restroom facilities. And the icing on the cake…women and men also tend to be sexually attracted to one another at times. This can make for very complicated interpersonal dynamics, jealously, and often conflicts of interest in the chain of command.

    While I do believe that their are many psuedo-comabt related tasks women are suited for, shoving the round peg of the female gender into the square hole of combat ain’t the right answer. It’s the PC fell-good answer, but not the right one. War doesn’t care about PC or what’s fair. When you go that route, good men die. You win it by picking the right tool for the job. Overall the right tool for sustained combat operations in enemy territory is, and if I had my way, will always be, men.

    • awc

      Having the honour of serving with numerous women in the combat arms I can tell you that they are all turned-on Soldiers and Officers (yes, I mean female Infanteers). it may be true that 99% of women are “weaker” than men, but I can guarantee that this is not the case in the Canadian Navy, Army and Air Force. There are non-combat roles where women are weaker than the men, but if we stick to the combat arms they are just as strong, if not stronger mentally and physically as they deal with all sorts of gender profiling etc.
      I know of no “special medical needs” that women require over men. If anything us guys should be seeing the doctor as often as women.
      I will grant you the argument that sexual relations do occur between men and women, however, if you are in combat there is no time for relationships. If there is time for men and women to form sexual relationships in combat there is certainly time for men to form sexual relationships with each other. There is a certain bond formed between all members of a combat unit, having a female soldier does change things slightly, but they deal with it. Sexuality of the members of a unit does change the way it works initially.If a male soldier needs to piss you know what he does? He finds turns away and pisses. You know what a female soldier does? She does the exact same thing and carries on with her day.

      As this article alludes to, women have a very special place in combat operations. They can do things that men can’t especially in Afghanistan where gender differences are huge in everyday life.

    • Geoff Withnell

      The “special medical needs” referes to the fact that a significant number of women in a long term field combat environment get yeast infections.

      Geoff Withnell

    • JAK

      Please, I have never had a yeast infection. 2 deplyments and 25 years of annual training. It is a low number of women that get yeast infections – not a significant number as you state; we have baby wipes and can do PTA baths; not a big deal Geoff!.

    • TacticalTom

      It seems the IDF hasn’t had any problems doing it.
      I think it is time women do there fair share of combat. I know many women who complain about not being treated the same as men but when you mention combat, they say “No way.”
      Personally, I think if you want to vote in this country you should have to serve in the military.

    • Ashley C

      There is this magical birth control shot that you can get, and you have no periods. None at all. So there goes your medical and physical “deficiencies” argument. Even is 99% of females are physically inferior, there’s still the one percent. This is very selective group of females we are talking about here. You also act as if women aren’t already breaking the wire and working in combat roles where they just don’t put the word “combat” in front of their title. And these women aren’t becoming Rangers or regular SF soldiers. They are a team all their own attached to those units. They have a specialized task to do that you, as a man, could not do.

  • SwissFreek

    I know some female soldiers that were selected for this program. I think it’s unfair to make a blanket assumption that these women are not trained to the same level or not as physically capable as their male counterparts. The ones I know could run circles around many of their fellow (male) soldiers, and are just as tactically competent. Extremely smart, too, which I would argue is more important than brute strength. There are outstanding female soldiers, and terrible ones, just like there are outstanding male soldiers, and terrible ones. Don’t sell them short.

  • theblackknight

    thats a weird looking kitchen in the picture

    • jbayley

      Yes. Yes it is.

  • Matt McLeod

    Similar situation reported here in Australia a couple of weeks ago:

  • RAY

    Women in a front-line commando type unit is not new, just more public and a new twist on things. The Tactical Civil Affairs teams have been doing this for a while now. Female team members are not new to being on the front lines of the battlefields. They have been being used as cultural experts in dealing with women in Iraq and Afghanistan for many many years now. This is part of their basic job as a CA Soldier and team member. These Soldiers have been the behind the scene leaders for the PRT’s, Tactical CA Teams and Special Forces Women’s Initiatives Program in Iraq and Afghanistan. These women Soldiers are tougher and smarter than many men. I have met and have served with Civil Affairs Female Soldier who got the job done in very dangerous remote areas. I have been In the Civil Affairs Community for 15 years and this is not a new game just a new team. No different than having HTT out there doing this. Just another group with a new twist.

  • Dan Temme

    This is a great idea, all conventional sentiments aside its a concept that’s proven to be useful by the IDF. This is similar to the PsyOps battalions currently being utilized, except the target audience is different. I think this program has some great potential, and shouldn’t be shot down because of traditional thinking

  • David B

    As long as they’re trained to the same level as any other soldier in their unit, it doesn’t matter from a military standpoint. A soldier is a soldier. That being said, there are also roles that males cannot fill, such as this particular unit. Assuming the motivations aren’t purely for political and publicity reasons, it shouldn’t matter, if they’re as capable as any other soldier.

  • Zach Blue-Thompson

    My main concern after I read more in the article on, is that they aren’t focusing on the physical aspect of training. They’re just teaching them some advanced weapons and throwing them in with SF units and Ranger Bats. I’ve got no problem with a woman in combat or spec ops if she can hold her own and goes through the same or similar training as other spec ops. When you throw someone who isn’t trained properly into a combat zone all of the sudden this new asset becomes a liability, everyone has to worry about her instead focusing on the objective at hand. This isn’t just about women or anything its the same as if you took some pencil pusher show him how to shoot and then ship him out. I don’t if this is a good or bad thing for women in combat roles…

    • Phil

      While I agree with your view on women in combat units having to meet the same standards as their male counterparts you also have to understand that the women in this article aren’t being embedded with SOF units as door kicker. The women in these units are being attached to them to help them do things that they can’t do as men because of cultural restrictions in the Afghan/Islamic culture. For instance, there’s no way any male SOF trooper (or any other male for that matter) would be able to talk to an Afghan woman alone, a male escort (father, brother, etc.) would have to be present and they might not feel as free to speak like they would if they were alone which could only happen with another woman.

    • jdhbulseye

      Except one thing…if an individual is going the same places as the rest of the team they face the same danger and if a situation arises would have to perform just like the other team members. If they didn’t perform they would be a liability. No excuses for lack of training. Every member of a SOF team should be proficient and capable of performing in combat. I doubt anyone would disagree. For that matter, every member of a combat team of any sort should be trained to the same standard as their counterparts. I have no problem with anyone serving in the armed forces in any capacity so long as they can achieve proficiency in the standard for whatever job they do. Why should lack of combat training or physical ability be an exception to training standards? I should never be; that’s how people get killed.

    • Steve

      LAPD SWAT…Dumbed down the selection proccess to get a woman in D-Team….She then squeezed off a negligent discharge on the range at LAPD SWAT school with an H&K MP5. That same move would have bounced a male out! Dour standard……And now they are stuck with mediocrity._

  • Werner

    I myself am of two minds on this matter: One the one hand I recognize that women can do things men can’t, but on the other considering a lack of physical strength as compared to men, I would prefer to have a buddy beside me, able to drag my @ss to safety if I go down in a fire-fight. Despite hating what Paul verhoeven did to Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers”, the mixed showers and such in the movie should be implemented as well then. If women choose to share the burden, then they should (each and everyone) be ‘one of the guys’ and not expect special treatment ‘because we’re women’. If I might suggest a great read on this topic: “The Amazon Legion” by Colonel Tom Kratman, a professional soldier and officer who has given this matter some serious thought.

  • deadhorse

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the IDF employs women in combat in all female Units only; not mixed. Having served alongside women in combat, I do believe that some can handle the “job”. But like anything else, with numbers come a dilution of quality.

    I’d say women can be employed in combat, but only in all female Units.

  • JM

    Why not look at this from a psych-ops perspective. You have trained and heavily armed women tagging along with the SOF into villages where women and girls are treated as property. They get the opportunity to see that we treat women with the same dignity and respect as we treat men and women have the same opportunities. That is a huge psychological assault on the patriarchal nature of Afghan society in particular the 14th century ideology of the Taliban.

    Don’t underestimate the power of women in that culture to affect change. Just remember at one point in our history we had the same low view of women (and apparently some still do). Like was mentioned above, the IDF has had women serving in front-line combat roles for a long time and I dare some of you to spout some of that BS to those women and see how inferior they are to you!

  • Leonidas

    The Marine corps did this a couple years ago, called the female units Female Engagement Teams (FET), if I remember correctly. I heard good things about them, able to get intel from indigeinous women, help them medically, and even give them some hope. I think this veil of women in combat positions was pierced with the GWOT, while years ago I would have been the first to jump up and say “women belong in the rear with the gear” I have changed my mind. Our current warfare and enemies will attack our garrisons probablly more quickly then they will engage a front line combat unit, so our warrior sisters have gotten their share of trigger time. I just hope America has the stomach for this, because their skills could most certainly be used up front.

  • Bob

    Hearts and Minds yes. Being an operator in a tier 1 Special Operations Team….Not. God love our female Military personel, but lets bring it back down to reality……..Dancing with the elephant is a heck of a lot different than waxing intelectual about demographic imperatives serving in ST-6. Anyone who says otherwise……hasen’t been there and should reserve comment.

    • JM

      The only thing I’ve read about these CST women indicates that they are brought in to villages where there are no active engagements and work with the special operations teams to interact with the women who would otherwise not be allowed to talk to the American men. That, as the article states, opens up the other 50 percent of the population for gathering information and building relationships. Let’s face it, in a patriarchal society, the men may run the country and participate in their national past-time, i.e. warfare, but the women still have influence inside their homes and families. That is a facet of Afghan life that is off limits to male American soldiers.

      So basically, it seems as though some jump to the conclusion that these women are acting as ‘operators’ when in fact there is no evidence from the numerous reports I’ve read that they are actually there in a combat role.

      Just so no one misses the point … nothing has been said that indicates that these women function in any kind of combat role with the special operations teams, rather they are a complementary asset that is brought in to reach out to a population group that cannot be privately talked to by male American soldiers (that’s why the article talks about recruiting females with medical skills, etc.). Like I said, this seems to be more about psychological operations than females in special operations combat teams.

    • Bob

      “This is good news for women who’ve wanted to serve in combat positions and have been waiting for positions to emerge. I’m excited for new service opportunities for interested and qualified female soldiers, but I’m also concerned that this new step into combat is in a part of the world that is so harmful and unforgiving towards women. I guess there is no graceful and cushy entrance into combat.

      What are your thoughts on women in combat?”

      JM……Perhaps you should read the article before you opine ignorantly about a comment. Big smile..

    • JAK

      Well put JM. I am applying for a CST slot! Women have their roles and the SOF men have their roles; they train, fight and live as a cohesive team to accomplish a mission. I have a boss that went on this mission when it was termed FET. 5 women from WI were picked and all did an outstanding job.

  • – J.

    Nevermind the story sounding a little cheekey – this photo just makes me laugh. It looks like a bad superimpose job! I could put a rifle and kit on my 4’nothing fiancée and make it look more realistic than that. Really, I’m crying on the inside.

  • Anthony C. Blandino

    Like a lot of what our goverment does, this is PC “smoke and mirrors”. It’s ALL show and NO go.

  • jmb4856

    As a female, I undoubtedly say we do NOT belong in combat, period. There’s a place for females but not there. Especially not in that area of the world. Considering women’s status in the middle east, how can the female presence help the situation? The military’s use of social experimentation is going to backfire (it already is in other areas).

  • RH

    Guys, (and the one or two gals)

    As a “really good friend” of a women on a CST I think some of you (most actually) are way off base.

    If you are military and have got access to ‘other than NIPR’ search for “CST” and “Cultural Support Team” and you’ll come across some of their reports and what not and you can read up on what they’ve ACTUALLY been doing. (No I’m spilling info or violating OPSEC or PERSEC by pointing this out so don’t get your undies in a bunch.)

    CSTs are not kicking in doors and throwing flashbangs and it was never advertised as such. No one ever intended or suggested that they were going to make ‘shooters’ out of them for breaching, entering and clearing.

    Some of you all seem to forget that DA was (and is) supposed to be only a small part of the SF mission.
    Anyone seem to recall the whole FID/IW/COIN thing? Anyone? Buehler? Anyone?

    Sure DA is ‘sexy’ but FID/IW/COIN is where SF can and should be making its money and this is where the CSTs really come in and their skill sets can shine.

    For anyone that is actually .mil go over to the Army Forums ( ?) and you can read the FOUO reports and AARs about both CSTs and FETs in general.

    Keep in mind much open-source reporting is ususally wrong or at least slightly offbase.
    Keep in mind that anything put out by anyone that is a PAO has been heavily spun and heavily filtered at several different levels (for various reasons and to meet varous agendas) before it ever hits the public.

    If you’ve got .mil access do your own reasearch on the .mil side, talk to someone who’s actually been on a CST or actually worked WITH a CST and then form an opinion.

    My only bitch with the whole FET/CST thing is that the RIGHT time to start a program like this was back in late 2002 or early 2003 so we could have gotten it up, running and optimized and expanded across the conventional force by late 2004… if we had done that it might have made a signifigant difference to our end state but its way to late in the game now.

    Stay safe girls and I hope you get to enjoy the Green Bean at BAF and the chowhall at Vance on the way back.


  • Stacy Crooks

    Woman in my views are completely equal to men and as such should be able to fill slots in the regular ruck marching Infantry and door kicking SOF units such as Rangers, Green Berets, SEALs, PJs, CCTs, SOF Weather, SOAR and SWCC. However, they should be able to pass the entry requirements and schools to be a part of these units the same as men, NO HANDICAPS! Other than that woman should be able to serve in combat, period!

  • Travis Woodard

    I dont see any problem with females being in special ops but i do think there role should be limited to the mission at hand. Its no about wether they are capable but wether or not there role is vital to the mission, Though there are plenty of issues not in the operations aspect that need be addressed.

  • amanda

    I find it interesting that the men still feel women should “pass the same tests as the men” considering these tests are so out-dated and designed specifically for men to pass.

    How about you pass MY test— Can you leg-press half a ton? NO? You are out.

  • Richport

    @Anthony C. Blandino Greeting Mr. Blandino. I was just searching for you, via google. Found you on this site. If possible, please reach me at  Merazopt(at)gmail(dot)com. Related to Combatives. Thanks!!

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