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News | May 2, 2022

Gender advisors support Operation Allies Welcome mission

By U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs

Throughout the duration of Department of Defense (DoD) support to Operation Allies Welcome, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) led the effort to provide gender advisory support to this Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-led, interagency operation to resettle Afghan evacuees in the United States.

As part of Operation Allies Welcome, DoD, through NORTHCOM, provided temporary housing, sustainment and support to Afghans on eight DoD installations including Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; Fort Pickett, Virginia; Fort Lee, Virginia; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Camp Atterbury, Indiana, from July 30, 2021 to March 15, 2022. While at these safe havens, Afghans were able to safely complete the steps of the resettlement process, such as medical screening and administrative requirements.

In the early days of Operation Allies Welcome, DHS and NORTHCOM leaders identified the task forces’ need for gender advisory support to help tailor the provision of support to address the diverse needs and safety of the Afghan guests.

At the request of DHS, NORTHCOM quickly coordinated with U.S. Army North to deploy eight trained gender advisors, one to each of the task forces, with personnel deploying from NORTHCOM, U.S. Indo Pacific Command, U.S. Transportation Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Army University.

“By deploying gender advisors at the request of DHS, we provided a truly ground-breaking and critical resource to the task forces," said Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and NORTHCOM. “The gender advisors’ thorough assessments and support helped enable the success of Afghans resettling into American communities.”

The deployment of the gender advisors supports the U.S. Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, which recognizes the benefits derived from creating opportunities for women and girls to serve as agents of peace via political, economic and social empowerment. DoD is working to support the Act via its Women, Peace and Security program, which focuses on exemplifying a diverse, resilient, and flexible organization and ensuring the safety, security, and human rights of men, women, boys and girls, especially during conflict and crisis.  

The focus of the gender advisors was to provide a gender perspective into decision making; build relationships and trust with the female guests; ensure women had equitable access to information and were able to voice their issues, concerns and ideas; and provide English classes and education on U.S. cultural norms and expectations.

 “The deployment of the gender advisors was a historic move,” said Tiffani Phillips, NORTHCOM’s gender advisor who also served at Task Force Bliss. “It was the first time DoD deployed gender advisors in support of a Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission. DHS quickly validated the gender advisors as a key role and function at each task force – they were a necessity, not a nicety. They helped contribute to the resilience of these brave families.” 

The Task Force locations were neither an exact replication of Afghan culture nor intended to exactly replicate American culture. The locations served as a bridge between where the Afghan guests came from and where they were going.

Gender advisor Monica Herrera, Women, Peace and Security Curriculum Developer at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, who served for two months at Task Force Liberty, explains that her efforts involved encouraging an inclusive approach to decision-making.

“People often conflate gender considerations with women’s issues, but it’s so much more than that,” Herrera said, explaining that gender includes the socially constructed roles, rights, responsibilities, norms, relationships, privileges and power dynamics associated with being a man, woman, boy or girl in society. The cultural environment [at the safe havens] was always evolving and gender dynamics were also in flux. Changing gender norms affect everyone.”

“It’s gratifying to feel like you’re contributing to not just their immediate needs, but also serving as their bridge into American society,” said Claire Sneed, NORTHCOM’s Women, Peace, and Security Advisor who served at Task Force McCoy.

Gender advisor Lt. Col. Natalie Trogus, who spent three months supporting Task Force Pickett and Task Force Lee, stood up a Female Engagement Team (FET) at Task Force Pickett comprised of female Marines.

“The engagement of the women in the FET was inspirational and truly supported the needs of the Afghan guests,” said Trogus. “They were able to work with Afghan women in the Women’s Center to help create resumes, teach Afghans basic English, participate in sporting events to build camaraderie and rapport, and show how women can serve in the defense sector. The FET Marines were able to build trust with Afghan guests and helped Afghan women with their individual needs that prepared them with American culture assimilation.”

NORTHCOM served as the DOD’s lead combatant command for the Operation Allies Welcome mission in the continental United States, in support of the Department of State and DHS. U.S. Army North, as NORTHCOM's Joint Force Land Component Command, was the lead operational command for this mission.