First female soldier in team engaging Afghan women dies
Summary of story from LA Times, December 11, 2011
A 24-year-old American has become the first female soldier to die who was part of an elite team sent to Afghanistan to engage women.
Army 1st Lieutenant Ashley White, from Ohio, was tasked with interviewing Afghan women after American forces secured a compound outside Kandahar.
She was killed alongside two Army Rangers after a homemade bomb exploded.
The 34-strong team to which she belonged was set up to perform duties that men could not for fear of offence, such as frisking and questioning Afghan women.
Eighty-two women graduates have been sent to Afghanistan, and nearly 50 are assigned to special operations units. They do not engage directly in combat, but follow special operations units after areas are secured.
Until such teams were created last year, women from regular units were borrowed for certain missions, but then senior commanders began to push for specially trained female volunteers for “gender appropriate engagement”.
Only half the women who apply pass the five-day assessment process. They must pass a physical training test and undergo six weeks of special training.
Sergeant Christine Baldwin, 34, has been in the army for seven and a half years and recently returned from serving in Afghanistan.
“No matter how good the rapport in an area, male soldiers are still going to miss out on what 50 percent of the population has to offer,” she explained.
Altogether, 138 women serving with the US forces have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of them killed by homemade bombs.