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Feature Stories

NEWS | Aug. 23, 2019

Fearless females unite, empower one another

By Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla Hakeem Area Support Group - Jordan

Trekking along a road blazed more than a century ago by the late Opha May Johnson, the first female to enlist into the U.S. Marine Corps, is no easy feat. Nevertheless, 101 years later, thousands have courageously followed her footsteps encouraging powerful women, of all nationalities, and proudly wearing the eagle, globe and anchor.

Members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Female Engagement Team (FET) trained in Jordan for two weeks in August with the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) Quick Reaction Force (QRF) FET focusing on bilateral development, interoperability, and strengthening proficiency and relationships between Jordan and the United States. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, but in the world as a whole. The JAF QRF FET is comprised of a platoon of female Soldiers trained for rapid response situations where male Soldiers cannot realistically engage with women encountered by the armed forces.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Katie Modzelewski, with the 11th MEU FET, served as the officer in charge. The team is a platform for females to come together, develop team enablers within their varying military occupational specialties, and encourage strong female leadership. The screening process examined the candidates’ physical fitness levels, marksmanship scores, martial arts belt level, previous instructor experiences, unique language capabilities, but most of all, their desire to be a part of the FET.

“Maybe I built the team, but none of this would have been as successful had they [the FET] not been so dedicated; wanting to be here and being as mature as they are,” Modzelewski said humbly, “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

According to Modzelewski, the language barrier between the two countries presented a challenge, but the training could not have gone any better, unless they had more time with the JAF QRF FET. The FETs took time to openly discuss similarities and differences between the American and Jordanian cultures, specifically with women in the military, to gain an overall better understanding of one another and facilitate bonding. Modzelewski said it was an honor for herself, and the team, to train alongside the Jordanians.

“Although we wear different uniforms, it’s unique to see different women together,” said Modzelewski, “When you come together as a group of strong women, you just have to embrace it and learn from each other.”

One Marine who was motivated by her passion for female unity and empowerment is Sgt. Elia Balbaloza, with the 11th MEU FET. She has served as a Marine for more than seven years. She said she loves to share what she has learned with all women, regardless of ethnicity. She has trained with Bahraini, Romanians and now Jordanians. According to Balbaloza, she wants to see females grow and find the inner confidence they may have never known they had.

“I love seeing strong women and I love women empowering other women,” she explained, “Us [women] coming together and showing how we can work together and do great things as a team is so important.”

Training areas during the two weeks included emergency medical care, fundamentals of marksmanship, live fire ranges, weapons handling, physical fitness, personal security, martial arts and several other areas of military interest.

Balbaloza wants to teach and pass the knowledge she’s inherited from past teams and former leadership to younger Marines and military women so they can then transfer that wisdom on and grow as a force. She explained that being a woman in the military can sometimes be hard, but it’s all about teamwork. She said when someone on her team goes down, the entire team goes down together; when one succeeds, they all succeed.

“We [FET] are here trying to let the world know that we want powerful women,” explained Balbaloza, “We want women who want to help each other and see each other grow to become a great force, a force to be reckoned with.”

Madaba resident Pvt. Hanady Al-Shakhatreh, with the JAF QRF FET, has been in the military for two years. According to Al-Shakhatreh, JAF members would visit her school each Monday and Wednesday to conduct training; this inspired Al-Shakhatreh to serve her country. She has participated in FET training with other military branches, but feels she greatly improved herself through the 11th MEU training. She learned a few English commands for firing during range operations and now feels she can solve any problem she faces.

“I love my country,” said Al-Shakhatreh through an interpreter, “I feel happy to know many things and have improved myself.”

The U.S. military has a long-standing relationship with Jordan to support our mutual objectives by providing military assistance to the JAF consistent with our national interests. The Boxer Amphibious Ready group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.