The soldiers of the Female Engagement Team pose for a fun group portrait on a Stryker at their home base, Shoja, in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. The soldiers are attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment. From left: Spc. Valerie Cronkhite, Spc. Melicia James, Mary, Pfc. Jamie Sterna, 1st Sgt. Miriam Lopez and Pvt. Lilian Nunez. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published the fourth in a series of four story/photo packages JR Ancheta and I produced in Afghanistan. I’m proud of the story…it’s generated a litany of comments, both positive and negative.

There area a few people–men and women–who wrote that women have no business in combat. There were a couple of people who wrote that it was sexist of me to include her height and weight. I saw that one coming a mile away. I included her height and weight because it makes a strong and relevant point in the story. If I needed to include a guy’s height and weight to make a point, I’d do it.

Spc. Valerie Cronkhite, left, and Pfc. Jamie Sterna have a drink as they wait for the morning ramp briefing before the start of a mission with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Co. on Wed., Jan. 4, 2012. Cronkhite has a Coke; Sterna stays loyal to Pit Bull. Both women are members of the Female Engagement Team attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment of the 1/23th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

I had been interested in this story since I first heard about the program from Public Affairs Officer Maj. David Mattox at Fort Wainwright, Ak., last year when I was the Snedden Chair at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I met Spc. Valerie Cronkhite when we followed the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team to Fort Irwin, Calif. and the Mojave Desert for their final training before deploying to Afghanistan in April 2011.

I was sorely disappointed we didn’t have the chance to spend time with the FET soldiers during NTC. I was determined to do the story when JR and I embedded.

Here’s the link to the story:–children?instance=home_lead_story

And here’s to our sisters!