Texas Guard Soldier Aims to Improve Lives of Afghan Women
KABUL, Afghanistan - She came to Afghanistan to do her job just like any of her male counterparts, but she has found a way to have a big impact on the lives of an often-overlooked group-Afghan women.
Lt. Col. Stephanie Purgerson, a Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from Flower Mound, Texas and Camp Phoenix Base Support Group commander, recently arrived in Kabul with the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, with the goal of improving living and working conditions on the camp for the coalition service members assigned there. However, through senior-leader engagements, she is now looking for ways to improve the lives of some of the women living in the small villages around the camp.
"We use the senior leader engagements to meet with the village elders who have a lot of influence in the community. We can learn what drives the violence, what the peoples' issues are, and what, if anything, we can do to help solve the issues," Purgerson said. "I found that they are educated, but need jobs."
Conducting SLEs is not new for Purgerson, who conducted several in Afghanistan and Iraq during a previous deployment. However, often she is the only woman in the meetings, and the only woman walking the dusty roads of the villages along-side the American Soldiers and Afghan police.
During a recent SLE, Purgerson provided some gifts for women and girls that included common sundry items most Americans find in their bathroom medicine cabinets, but are difficult to come by for many in Afghanistan.
"I have the ability, as a female, to talk with the women here and help in a way that may be more difficult for men," Purgerson said. "I noticed during other foot patrols the young girls didn't have shoes, undergarments, or were in need of hygiene items. It was just a small way to reach out to that piece of the community that is often ignored, in my opinion."
In exchange for the gifts for the poor, Purgerson received a traditional scarf and a bouquet of flowers from the village elders during the meeting. However, she wanted the elders to understand that the meeting wasn't about her, but about helping the villagers. She also talked to the elders about teaching people a valuable trade so that they can sustain themselves and feed their families.
"We don't want to come here and spend a lot of money building schools or construction projects they can't sustain after we leave," Purgerson said.
In Afghanistan, many women's hopes rely upon the success of their male children, which is why so much of the focus in Afghan society is on men.
"Mothers have a vested interest in educating their sons, but their daughters' hopes depend on who they marry," Purgerson said.
Purgerson is a single parent of two children and has spent more than 23 years in the military raising her children around Fort Hood and Flower Mound, Texas. She said she doesn't have any unrealistic hopes that the male-dominated Afghan society will become more inclusive to women before the end of her deployment next summer or when the U.S. departs in 2014.
"My goal is to take the opportunity I have by being a woman and my place here on Camp Phoenix," she said, "to directly and positively affect the women here so it helps increase security and offer a better life for the Afghans."
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