The SAS Female Engagement Team deploys

The military women who are working alongside 1(NZ) SAS Regiment members as part of the Female Engagement Team (FET) say adaptability, flexibility and a high level of fitness are key to their role.

The FET deployed on exercise overseas recently for the first time, and their contribution has been praised by the soldiers they worked alongside.

“I look back at the many times we have deployed without a FET — and know now that it will make us more precise and agile and will amplify the NZDF’s capability. We are already a diverse group of tri-service men and women, so it’s great to have more female SOF in my hangar, it only makes us better, ” says Warrant Officer Class One F, a senior enlisted leader in the Special Operations Task Unit.

The FET was established last year to support Special Operations Force (SOF) objectives. Its primary role is to engage with local women and adolescents where the SOF are involved and in situations where it would be culturally unacceptable to involve male SOF operators.

FET women receive training in soldier survivability, operational orientation, general and regional culture, engagement, face-to-face communication, and gathering tactical information.

In January this year a group of military women who had passed an entry test started a four month training programme.

“We attended initial integration and learnt about the Regiment we would hopefully be a part of, says FET Commander Lieutenant M. “Most of the training we underwent focused on engaging with the local population in deployed areas, enhancing our understanding of gender issues and deepening our cultural knowledge. This gave us the tools we need to interact with people across the spectrum of operations. There were many sleepless nights finishing written briefs and presenting our findings to various audiences, “she said.

“The ability to approach strangers and build rapport quickly was put to the test in diverse situations and combat fitness throughout the training was a priority due to the nature of our close enabler role. Training included developing our ability to move, shoot, communicate and medicate up to the NZSOF close enabler standard, allowing us to work alongside NZSOF and NZDF frontline units. On completion we were expected to be at the Basic Level of Capability (BLOC) to operate as a FET in support of SOF, and the wider NZDF.”

Just days after completing the course the women joined the High Readiness Task Unit (HRTU) for Exercise Croix du Sud, a stability and security operation led by the French in New Caledonia.

“Although we had only just completed our training the week prior, we knew there was a steep learning curve ahead, and it proved adaptability and flexibility were going to be key to the role. We completed pre-deployment training before being attached to respective platoons and deploying into theatre. The team integrated well within their respective platoons and the commanders were keen to involve FET in all aspects of the exercise,” says another FET member CPL F.

The FET’s main role was to engage with, and search, local women and children who had presented to the evacuation assembly centres. “This helped ground commanders by having a female presence within each platoon, and freed up their personnel to focus on their corps specific work. The team also took in area patrols and built rapport with the locals.

“We appreciated having the FET on Exercise Croix du Sud, as they really enhanced our flexibility while conducting the non-combatant evacuation operations phase. Their ability to relate to the local population allowed us to visibly lower our force posture — which supported the regular civilian interaction that occurred, says Captain Tom Kelly, the acting Officer Commanding of the HRTU.

Every Monday for the FET begins with combat conditioning, with PT at 0800 for the rest of the week.

“Though similar to other units, the intensity is a little higher, so you have to be prepared to put your best foot forward and give it everything you’ve got. We fall under one of the SOF Troops’ within the Expeditionary SOTU. Our troop is made up of the other Close Support Enablers such as Signallers, medics and Explosive Ordnance Device operators.”

There is no such thing as a typical work day. “One week we could be on the range or in the training areas, while another week may involve further exposure to on the job training — including our parent Corps requirements. Knowing you are working with highly motivated people can be quite daunting, however, it makes you step up and do things you may not have realised you were capable of doing.”

Not every day within the regiment is as exciting, she says. “Paper work and planning also makes up a big part of our job.”

As the capability has just been formed, new ideas and concepts are still being developed. NZSOF is always improving the way it does business, and is working on improvements from the first iteration.

“The regiment has many different training opportunities and experiences that you possibly wouldn’t find yourself doing within the wider NZDF. This keeps you on your toes and ensures you will rarely get bored,” says a FET member CPL S.

“The FET is a NZDF asset that overtime, will grow, promote and develop combat-capable female leaders who will return to their trades and services better than when they left,” says the Commanding Officer of the NZSAS, Lieutenant Colonel C.

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