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29 Afghan women break barrier, become army officers

Twenty-nine women have graduated from the Afghan National Army's officer candidate school -- the first women to do so -- and taken up positions in finance and logistics at the Afghan Defense Ministry, according to officials who helped supervise their training.

"The females that graduated ... live in the Kabul area, so they'll be working with the Ministry of Defense, and they'll actually have a job [where] they work side by side with some of the males that are here," U.S. Army Capt. Janis Lullen told Pentagon reporters during a media videoconference from Kabul Tuesday.

The 20-week course was historic for a society in which women have traditionally been barred from such positiions. The original 44 candidates took a series of tests before being accepted into the program.

They had to be high school graduates and literate, in a population where some 70 percent can neither read nor write.

"Once we got them in there ... we trained them up, basically the same way that the males are trained," said First Sgt. Kristin Norton, who also participated in the training. One of the biggest challenges, Norton said, was getting the women physically fit. "Their bodies weren't used to the physical activities that we pushed them through," Norton said, "but through 20 weeks, it was definitely a transformation."

As with the men's OCS program, the women received training in the use of weapons -- the M-9mm pistols as well as the M-16 and other carbines. Unlike the men, however, the women were also given 12 weeks of specialized training in finance and logistics.

"What they do from there we haven't been told yet," said Lullen.

Recruiting is now underway for a second Afghan female OCS class, with a goal of 150 to start in November. "I don't know if it will be that many, but that's what they're shooting for," Norton said.

The experience of training women for the Afghan army was "something which we felt was historical ...especially as females in the U.S. military ourselves," Norton said.

She added: "It was just invigorating to watch these girls grow. I mean, they really came a long way... And we're excited to see what they do in the ANA [Afghan National Army] in the future."

By Walter Pincus  | September 22, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
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