During a night deployment in Northern Afghanistan in 2012, an Army soldier accompanied Special Forces colleagues for a particularly dangerous operation: Moving through the back of a village known by traversing high walls to avoid public streets and the deadly IED’s known to be planted there. Everyone knew the risks.
Soldiers who carried out these maneuvers will tell you that night vision goggles make all the difference after dark, but that depth perception is a challenge. While climbing one of those walls, that soldier fell from the top packing an extra 100 pounds of equipment and landed headfirst. The mission that night was successful, but injuries from that night are still felt even today.
The soldier injured that night is Chief Warrant Officer Jaclyn Scott (call sign JAX), who volunteered as a member of the military that served in female Cultural Support Teams (CST) in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2021.
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But there’s only one thing missing from her story: According to Army records, her experience didn’t happen. No mission. No fall. No injuries. No service alongside Special Forces. And she’s not alone.
So, who were the CSTs?
According to the Army’s Special Operations Command, they were female soldiers who supported Army Special Operations combat forces in and around secured objective areas. Their primary task was to engage the female population in an area when it was deemed culturally inappropriate if performed by male counterparts.
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The lessons learned from dangerous combat missions concluded this was the best and sometimes only way to communicate with innocent civilians caught in a war zone and protect the lives of U.S. troops in harm’s way. CSTs also directly supported activities ranging from medical civic-action programs, searches and seizures, and civil-military operations.
But CSTs are not secret soldiers or part of a classified program. Many have been chronicled by the military and the media and two were killed in action. Despite dozens of contemporaneous accounts (known in the Army as “buddy letters”) and support up the chain of command, Jax and her fellow CST’s – more than 300 in the Army, Navy and Air Force – are designated as having not served in that capacity.
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All the conventional attempts to fix this oversight have yet to succeed. And take it from this former soldier who put in 10 years of active duty: The military does not hastily alter the records it keeps.
That’s why I’m working with the Special Operations Association of America and authoring new legislation in Congress – the Jax Act – to correct this wrong. With both Republican and Democrat cosponsors, my bill will provide the missing military service credit for women CSTs that served in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2010 and 2021 but were never recognized for that service.
This is more than a paperwork problem or a missing notation in a personnel file. Jaclyn Scott and her fellow CSTs have been denied rank, benefits and critical health care services. They carry the wounds of war – but are told every day that they don’t.
The Jax Act will change all that by recognizing courage under fire and telling the truth about special soldiers who think they’ve been forgotten. It’s a fight for the overdue acknowledgment of women who were asked to volunteer for dangerous missions, did so without hesitation, and now need us to set this right.
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