MADISON, Wis. - Four Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers have been selected for the Female Engagement Team, an all female supporting Army Special Combat forces by interacting with local women in combat zones.
Army Sgt. Kristen Elegeert of the 457th Chemical Company said the demanding five-day assessment and selection process at Fort Bragg, N.C., was unlike anything she had ever experienced.
"It took a lot of resilience, solid work ethic and teamwork," Elegeert said, adding that these same principles will be needed to prepare for the upcoming mission.
"Gaining maximum mental awareness and physical strength is a must," she said.
It was not a training environment, but an evaluation of physical, mental and intellectual capabilities required to maintain composure, apply logic, communicate clearly and solve problems in demanding situations.
Army Master Sgt. Karen Dumke of the 64th Troop Command agreed with Elegeert.
"It was the most difficult and challenging thing I have done in my entire 25-plus years in the military," Dumke said. "I believe it was basically an abbreviated version of what the males must go through in order to be selected to enter the Special Forces." Army Sgt. Sonia Buchanan of the Wisconsin Joint Force Headquarters, said there was no feedback during the assessment process until the final day.
"At that moment, as I was face to face with the assessor, all I wanted to hear was four words - 'You have been selected,'" Buchanan said. "It was all worth it - all the pain, all the hard work."
Army 1st Lt. April Kane of the Wisconsin Medical Command at Camp Williams was the final Wisconsin National Guard Soldier selected for the Female Engagement Team. A total of seven Wisconsin Guard members volunteered for the assessment and selection process.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, said he was very proud of all seven volunteers.
"This was an extremely demanding selection process for a very demanding and important mission," Anderson said. "They chose the best of the best, and it says a lot to me that they chose four Soldiers from Wisconsin."
The four who were selected will undergo several weeks of specialized training, beginning in May with a week at Fort Benning, Ga., followed by culture and language training at Fort Bragg, N.C. The training will include cross-cultural communication skills for Afghan and Islamic cultures. They will also learn negotiation and mediation skills, proper use of interpreters and key leader engagement techniques.
Upon completion of training the four will deploy with either a Ranger platoon or a Special Forces team in Afghanistan as members of a cultural support team working with area villages. Their primary mission will be to interact with women and children to build rapport, foster relationships and establish trust. In this role they will support medical missions, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations.
As Special Forces have very few trained female Soldiers available to interact with Afghan women and children, the cultural support team will fill a vital role in Afghanistan. A total of 50 female Soldiers are sought for the cultural support team. Deployments are expected to last up to eight months.
"I am extremely appreciative to be accepted ... and I am very eager to get to work," Elegeert said.
Each FET member will be preparing in her own way for the upcoming May training.
Dumke said she plans to begin a challenging physical training regimen prior to arrival at Fort Bragg.
"I will also be studying up on Afghan culture and language," she said.