TheGrio’s 100: Christina Oliver, translating as part of a rare team in Afghanistan

Before 25-year-old Cpl. Christina Oliver and 39 other female Marines were deployed to interview rural Afghan women last year, the U.S. military had no point of access to the female half of the population, a critical source for strategic information, but forbidden from interacting with male soldiers. While Oliver and her cohorts secure otherwise inaccessible, life-saving input from interviewees.

Christina Oliver is making history … because knowledge is power, and she’s risking her life to increase U.S. access to both. Oliver and other female Marines go into villages, where they meet with a male elder and ask permission to speak with Afghan women. The “female engagement teams” hand out school supplies and medicine, and drink tea with the locals with the aim to obtain information. Though tea team makes for an unusual wartime tactic, Oliver’s data gathering enables increasingly more effective use of forces and other resources in the nearly-10-year-old war.

In the best cases, the Marines have uncovered information about explosives and specific insurgents. More frequently, women in rural Afghanistan can offer local knowledge about their village’s needs, like irrigation or a new well. As American troops work to instigate stability on the local level in hopes of easing the transition to self-government, the military regularly builds infrastructure like bridges and roads. Knowing where to put these wells and bridges is invaluable.

There are only a few people who can go on missions to retrieve this information. Only 11 percent of troops currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are women, and female Marines are an even rarer breed; women make up 6 percent of the U.S. Marines Corps, and they are still officially barred from service in combat branches. As of December, 48 female Marines were working on the front lines in Afghanistan, side-stepping the combat restrictions by working closely with male units.

What’s next for Christina?

Women are often deployed for 6.5 month terms, which means Oliver may soon be ending her tour; however, without a clear end in sight for either war, it’s possible that the corporal may be serving again in Afghanistan in the near future.

WATCH THEGRIO’S 100 CHRISTINA OLIVER HERE
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In her own words …

“”As long as we don’t have a female interpreter, the [translator] can steer the conversation however he wants,”” Oliver told Marie Claire in April, explaining one of the many challenges she and her team face. “”The women won’t talk freely… But you get what you get. The fact that we get to go in and talk to anyone will pay off.””

A little-known fact …

In 1950, Anne Grimes became the third African-American woman to join the Marine Corps. She went on to have a full 20-year career in service, after becoming the first female African-American commissioned officer.

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