Cultural Support Team (CST)
The primary task of the Cultural Support Teams or
CSTs was to engage the female population of Afghanistan. Contact with
Afghan women is culturally inappropriate for male members of the military.
This cultural limitation hinders operations such as civic-action, raids,
information gathering, and other types of missions. The CSTs overcame this
limitation and allowed coalition force contact with Afghan women - who
comprise about 50% of the population of Afghanistan.
CST Member of SOTF-East meets villages at near COP Penich
SPC Patricia Ramirez, 24 May 2011, DVIDS)
Purpose and Mission of CSTs
Background. Cultural Support Teams are
comprised of about 3-5 female Soldiers who
support special operations forces. They take part in many different types
of operations to include combat operations. The CST members are aware of
local culture and customs and perform a wide variety of functions such as
key leader engagements, village medical outreach programs, and work with
SOF teams in support of
Stability Operations (VSO).
Origins of CSTs. USASOC observed
the Marines (and later the Army's) establishment of the
Female Engagement Teams (FETs) in
Afghanistan and decided that the concept had merit. Navy Admiral Eric
Olson, now retired, but in the spring of 2010 the commander of U.S.
Special Operations Command, issued an order to create the Cultural Support
Teams. The Cultural Support
Team concept was developed, females were recruited, selected for training,
trained, and then deployed to Afghanistan in support of
Special Operations Forces.
Selection for CSTs. The requirements to be on a
CST are demanding and the selection course will weed out those women not
suited. 1 The selection course is
conducted by the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) at
Fort Bragg, North Carolina.The selection and assessment course is ". . .
five days of physical, mential and intellectual evaluations designed to
determine a candidate's ability to maintain her composure, apply logic,
communicate clearly and solve problems in demanding environments. The
candidates are expected to skillfully manage simulataneous tasks and
comprehend ambiguous instructions while working under varying degrees of
uncertainty with little feedback. The program is as much a mental test as
it is a physical test."
CST Assessment & Selection at Fort Bragg
by SGT Russell Klika, May 2011, DVIDS)
Training of CSTs. The training
for a member of USASOC's Coalition Support Team (CST) is demanding.
some insight on the training view a blog post by SOFREP entitled A
Female CST and Special Forces Enabler Speaks Out accessed
here. In 2013 the training for CSTs was five weeks long - held at Fort
Bragg, North Carolina. In 2015 the
website stated CST training was six weeks long.
Marine Corps CSTs. The Marines
Special Operations Command also has Cultural Support Teams.
2. The members of the USMC CSTs also attend
the Special Operations Training Course or STC. In addition, once selected,
the CST members attend SERE, the MARSOC CST Course and other courses that
are tailored towards their deployment.
Concept of Employment and Operation. The CSTs
engage in a host of activities to include key leader engagement, rapport
building, medical outreach, humanitarian assistance, and micro-enterprise
projects. The CSTs are usually assigned to Special Forces teams that are
Village Stability Operations or VSO in Afghanistan or to Ranger units
conducting direct action missions (usually night raids) in Afghanistan.
Cultural Support Team (CST) members listen in
during an Afghan Local Police (ALP)
validation shura in Paktiya
province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by SGT J.R. Fisher)
Websites about CSTs
CSTs - Special Operations Recruiting Battalion. How to join a CST.
Facebook Page for Cultural Support Teams
Marine Corps Cultural Support Teams (CST)
Female Engagement Teams (FET)
Blog Posts on CSTs by Afghan War News
Blog Posts on FETs by Afghan War News
CST Soldier fires her rifle at range in Afghanistan
PFC Benjamin Tuck, DVIDS, Aug 2011)
Publications and Reports on Cultural Support Teams
(listed in chronological order)
January 14, 2016.
"Integration of Women in SOF Units", SOFREP. In December 2015 SECDEF
directed that all military jobs, units, and training are open to women
to include special operations.
September 22, 2015. "Curb Your Enthusiam / Skepticism Over Women in
SOF", By T. Negeen Pegahi, Small Wars Journal.
Katt, Megan. Blurred Lines: Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan,
September 30, 2014. National Defense University Press. Available
Fraser, Charotte. The Deployment of Female Counterinsurgents in
Afghanistan, E-International Relations, February 22, 2014. Available
Haring, COL Ellen, "Female Engagement Teams: An Enduring Requirement with
a Rocky Start", US Army Peacekeeping & Stability Operations Journal
Online, Volume 3, Issue 1, October 2012, pp.
Canales, Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominque, "NSW Cultural Support Teams:
Females fill critical battlefield role", Tip of the Spear, July
2012, pages 22-24.
Holliday, LTC Janet R., "Female Engagement Teams: The Need to Stardardize
Training and Employment", Military Review, pp. 90-94, March-April
Russo, Claire and Shannon Spann, Female Networking Operations: A
Tactical Tool for Strategic Advantage, Orbis Operations, LLC, June
Bedell, 1stLt Zoe. United States Marine Corps Female Engagement Team,
May 2011, USMC FET Briefing. Posted
here on NATO's website. (Adobe PDF).
Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). Commander's Guide to Female
Engagement Teams, Handbook by CALL, Version 1, May 2011. (FOUO).
of CST-2 Afghanistan Nov 2011
Videos about Cultural Support Teams (CST) in Afghanistan
Facing Down Threats: Opening Afghanistan Schools, Marine Female
Engagement Teams in Action, March 2014. Available
here on YouTube (2.5 mins).
Female Engagement Teams: Women in the U.S. Marines Building
on YouTube. (3 mins.)
Nangarhar Female Engagement Team. Available
here on DVIDS. May 31, 2013.
News Articles about Cultural Support Teams (CST)
March 26, 2016.
"Women in special forces: What the U.S. can learn from the Afghans",
Military Times. 80 Afghan female members now with Afghan
Special Security Forces (ASSF).
November 25, 2015.
Army CST-2 members share their stories", Army.mil.
July 17, 2015.
"Organizations seek to research, document women's combat experiences".
DVIDS. George Washington University conducts a conference to
May 19, 2015.
"The Army's all-women special ops teams show us how we'll win tomorrow's
wars". By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Washington Post.
May 8, 2015.
"Our Secret Weapon". Slate Magazine. Inside the U.S. team of
elite female soldiers who fought on Afghanistan's most dangerous terrain.
An excerpt from the book "Ashley's War" by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
April 30, 2015.
"Cultural support team women serve with distinction". Army.mil. Three
women who served on CSTs with special operations detail their deployments.
Apriil 29, 2015.
"The Story of the Incredible Women Who Served With Special Ops Units in
Afghanistan". By Anna Granville, Task & Purpose.
April 28, 2015.
"Women in special operations: Female troops detail their time in combat".
The Washington Post. Women recount their experiences serving in
Afghanistan w/ SF.
April 24, 2015.
"Meet the Real-Life G.I. Janes Who Served with Special Ops in
Afghanistan". People Magazine.
April 21, 2015.
"'Ashley's War: A look at the use of Cultural Support Teams in
Afghanistan", by Brian Castner, Foreign Policy. A review of a
book about a CST member who died in Afghanistan.
April 19, 2015.
"Inside the military program that put women in combat", New York
March 29, 2014.
"Heroic Madigan nurse ran 'into hell' during bombings in Afghanistan".
Stars and Stripes. CPT Jennifer Moreno tried to assist wounded
March 4, 2014.
"2nd Cav. Regt., 10th Sust. Bde. FETs reflect on female ANP successes".
DVIDS. FET based at Kandahar Airfield mentors 8-week female ANP
December 19, 2013.
"Former Eagles cheerleader now stars for the Army". USA Today.
Rachel Washburn deployed on Cultural Support Team attached to a special
November 3, 2013.
"Lecture: Woman in a Man's World with Special Forces in Afghanistan".
October 8, 2013.
"Soldier with Fort Bragg ties among four killed by IED in Afghanistan".
Fayetteville Observer. 1LT Jennifer M. Moreno was a member of
September 14, 2013. "N.C. National Guard Soldiers Honor Fallen Comrade
with Memorial". DVIDS. 1LT Ashley White-Stumpf, a fallen CST, is
honored. View the article
August 29, 2013.
"One of the Few". Army Reserve. A member of the 448th Civil
Affairs Battalion goes through CST training.
April 12, 2013. "Female Engagement Teams level the playing field in
Afghanistan". DVIDS. View article
here. Training for FETs outlined in story.
April 2, 2013. "Female Soldiers sets sights on special operations".
Army.mil. News article focuses on training and employment of CSTs.
February 25, 2013. "Life on COP Jannat: through a FET's eyes".
Here on DVIDS. A Female Engagement Team (FET) describes their mission
on COP Jannat.
December 29, 2012.
"The end of female engagement teams". Marine Corps Times. A
Marine spokeman says the use of Marine FETs has been discontinued. (Note:
this news report could be inaccurate).
September 9, 2012. "Vanguard soldiers try out for female engagement
teams". DVIDS. The selection process proves to be a grueling event.
August 23, 2012. "Wisconsin National Guard cultural support team receives
a hometown welcome at Miller Park." Available
here on Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.
June 12, 2012.
"Female Guard Solders recall Special Forces mission in
Afghanistan". Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.
October 31, 2011.
"In War in Afghanistan, Missions Just For Women". National Public
Radio (NPR). Kevin Maurer is interviewed about CSTs in this audio clip of
October 27, 2011.
"In new elite Army unit, women serve alongside Special Forces, but first
they must make the cut". By Kevin Maurer, The Washington Post.
A description of the selection and training for the CSTs.
July 27, 2011.
"Female Wisconsin Guard Soldiers prepare to make history". Wisconsin
National Guard Public Affairs Office. Four members of the guard complete
Cultural Support Team training and are enroute to Afghanistan to work
alongside special operations forces.
March 12, 2011. "FET Supports International Women's Day Celebration in
Baghlan Province". DVIDS. Major Linda Johansson (Sweden), the Female
Engagement Team coordinator participates in celebration. Available
February 8, 2011. "CST: Afghanistan". By Paula Broadwell. The Best
Defense Blog. Available
here on Foreign Policy.
January 21, 2011. "Course trains cultural teams to work with women in
theater". Army.mil. Available
December 9, 2010. "Women-led US teams work with Afghan women". Army.mil.
Return to top of Page
1. For more on the selection and training
for CSTs see "In a new elite Army unit, women serve alongside Special
Forces, but first they must make the cut", The Washington Post, October
2011. Article available
2. See the Marines website for more info on the
MARSOC Cultural Support Team (CST) program at the following link.
3. For more information on the demanding training
that Cultural Support Team members undergo see "One of the Few", DVIDS,
August 28, 2013.
4. For text in quotes about CST selection read "Cultural Support
Assessment and Selection program", DVIDS, July 7, 2011.
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