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Airmen spearhead ANA women’s seminar

By Ian Carrier Staff Sgt., American Forces Network, Afghanistan

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Afghan national army Gen. Kotul poses with Tech. Sgt. Lulu Tapia, 755th Expeditionary Support Squadron, left, and Tech. Sgt. Natalie Cerchio, 755th ESPTS, right. The Airmen are mentors at the ANA Logistics Support Operations Command in Kabul, and helped the ANA females start a weekly women's seminar. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ian Carrier)
Afghan National Army Gen. Kotul poses with Tech. Sgt. Lulu Tapia (left) and Tech. Sgt. Natalie Cerchio. The Airmen are mentors at the ANA Logistics Support Operations Command in Kabul, and helped ANA females start a weekly women’s seminar. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ian Carrier)

KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 26, 2008) — In an effort to help promote change in the male-dominated society of Afghanistan, two Airmen are currently heading a weekly women’s seminar for female Afghan national army soldiers and female ANA civilian workers.

Air Force Tech. Sgts. Lulu Tapia and Natalie Cerchio, from the 755th Expeditionary Support Squadron and assigned as mentors to the Afghan national army’s Logistic Support Operations Command, began by encouraging the Afghan women to wear their uniforms to work.

Eventually, the ANA females began to look to the Airmen for guidance and questioned them on their role in the U.S. military. Tapia came upon the idea to start a forum for the women to voice their concerns. With the blessing of Afghan national army Gen. Abdul Basir, LSOC commanding general, the women’s seminar was begun.

“Things are not the same as they were under the communist, mujadeen and Taliban regimes,” Basir said. “I think many Afghans in the U.S. and Europe think there is still the same discrimination. We have 90 female personnel in the area, and now we have a weekly seminar with the Americans,” Basir said.

“We get a lot of support from the general,” Tapia said. “That means a lot due to the cultural differences.”

According to Tapia, during the first meeting the main topics were dress and appearance. Approximately 20 females showed up but only three of them were in uniform. By the second meeting, about 10 were in uniform. At the latest session, there were nearly 50 participants and more than half were in uniform.

Over the course of the last 6 weeks, the topics began to vary from uniform standards to other topics such as training, physical training and professionalism. The women were encouraged to use their chain-of-command to gain credibility and address issues.

Guest speakers are also incorporated into the program. The guest speaker for the Feb. 23 session was ANA Gen. Khotul, who is not only the first female Afghan general, but also the first female Afghan paratrooper.

“I stand before you today a general, something I earned through hard work and many years serving my country,” Khotul said. “I want to tell you ladies that you are the future of Afghanistan. Learn as much as you can, and request support from your officers. If you have questions, ask them. Work together, help each other and be united. When you take care of yourself and take care of each other, you also take care of your leaders, and they, in turn will take care of you.”

The general also encouraged the women to look and behave as soldiers and look to the American females as role models. She thanked the Airmen for their part in the seminars.

‘I offer thanks to our sisters for having left their families to come here and help us,” said Khotul. “We very much appreciate them.”

At the end of the seminar, the general conducted a commander’s call with the ANA females during which many of them voiced concerns they had. Issues from pay problems, promotion problems, housing and training were voiced. Khotul assured the women that although change is slow, the problems would be addressed. Basir also attended the meeting, as he does every week.

“It is my wish that I should help these women jump to the moon,” he said. “And I shall request more military training to help them get promoted.”

Mina, an ANA soldier with the pay grade of E-8, is very pleased with the seminars.

I feel very good about these weekly meetings, they are positive,” Mina said. “The more we work together, the better our situation. The more women we can get to join, the better our military will be.”

The eventual goal is to have Afghan women running the seminars and not rely on Americans, Tapia said. At the conclusion of the meeting, the ladies were tasked by the Airmen to pick three members from their own ranks to lead the next seminar.

“I am really happy to be a part of this and to have gotten this started,” Tapia said. “We took an interest in them when no one else really had.”