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News | Sept. 1, 2021

Fort Bliss creates team to better assist female Afghan evacuees

By Sgt. Quintin Gee Operation Allies Welcome

While on patrol at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico in her new role as officer in charge of the female engagement team, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Morgan Spare, a military intelligence officer, was fondly embraced by a young female Afghan evacuee.

"She just came sprinting at us," Spare said with a smile on her face. "She gave me the biggest hug that I've ever had in my life. I crouched down to hug her back and she just did not want to leave my side."

Spare, assigned to the 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, is the Information Protection platoon leader for Delta company.

As part of Operation Allies Welcome, Spare was tasked with leading the female engagement team, which is designed to create more female-to-female interaction between service members and Afghan evacuees.

Culturally it is not acceptable for female Afghan evacuees to interact with male service members, Spare explained. The female engagement team is designed to bridge the gap that exists between female Afghan evacuees and any assistance or resources they may need.

"We realized some of the male soldiers would engage the females, and the females were a little uncomfortable," Spare said.

Females may not always have privacy because they are oftentimes accompanied by their husband or another male Afghan refugee when addressing a male service member.

"At all times a male was there speaking with the woman, so we can take that aspect out entirely," Spare said. "The females can talk to us and us alone, and a male does not have to listen."

Comprised of two battalions, the 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, and the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, the female engagement team was implemented to eliminate situations like that, Spare said.

"Everyone here is helped, but we did not want to forget about one specific gender," Spare said.
“We want to make sure that the women feel included and that their voice is heard as well."

Pfc. Eulalia Andres, a unit supply specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, is a member of the female engagement team and enjoys serving in such a unique capacity.

It feels great knowing the females are able to come to another female if there's something that they need, so they're not overwhelmed with the males, Andres stated. She also said that the female evacuees often have gender-specific questions that they are more comfortable talking to female soldiers about, but sometimes they would just like to talk and share their experiences.

"They tell you their stories and ask you for help," Andres said. "They open up to you and it's really neat."

In addition to being a person to vent to for women who have been through so much, Andres said she is also learning their languages, Pashto and Dari, through her encounters.

"I want to learn their language and actually interact with them," Andres stated. "It's beneficial for us to know a little bit, at least saying hello or knowing if they need help."

Like Spare, Andres is a big hit with the Afghan evacuee kids, and spends a lot of time helping them stay entertained during their stay.

"I actually made a friend with an 11-year-old here," Andres said. "We've been communicating, and she's been helping me, and I've been helping her and her family with translating."

Both Spare and Andres enjoy being a part of the female engagement team and already see the positive impact it is having on the female Afghan evacuees. Spare not only hopes to continue serving on the team, but she also wants to leave a lasting impression on these females.

"It's super rewarding knowing that I'm making that impression on these young girls here," Spare said. “As they start their life in America, I hope that I inspire them to follow their dreams to make a difference in their life."