Anna Crossley in Afghanistan in battledress holding rifle

A female soldier in Afghanistan

Anna Crossley served in Afghanistan in 2012 as a Female Engagement Officer.

Her role was to engage with the local population in one of the most hostile districts of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Her objective was to be invited into the homes of local Afghans and meet and talk to the women of the household, widely thought to be responsible for their children's education and the health of the family.

Anna Crossley in Afghanistan talking to Afghani children and elderly.

"I was hot, dirty and dressed like a man..."

But when I was invited inside a home I was always welcomed by Afghan women. It was a privilege to speak to them in their own language and experience their culture.

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Captain Crossley spent six months in Afghanistan in Forward Operating Base Oullette. This was her second time in the country.

Deployed within the Upper Gereshk Valley Anna had the task of engaging with the local population in one of the most hostile districts of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Anna's aim was to interact with both male members of the local communities and the female population that is off limits to male soldiers.

Anna Crossley on patrol in Afghanistan

"The lives of Afghan women in Helmand is hard."

They lack education, freedom and therefore equality with their male counterparts. Only the bravest women dare to challenge this way of life and risk their lives to make the female voice heard.

Although trained as a Nursing Officer and a member of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC), Anna chose this highly demanding role as an FEO and received language training before being deployed.

Anna would put on her body armour to prepare to head out on patrol in the Upper Gereshk valley of Helmand Province. Whilst in Afghanistan, this was the only way to access the homes of Afghan families known as compounds.

Anna Crossley in Helmand strapping on equipment vest

"Being a female attached to the infantry is not necessarily a barrier."

You have a different perspective and if you bring that alongside a variety of skills and the determination to work hard, you will be valued.

Female soldiers in pictures

An exhibition of photos by Alison Baskerville entitled The White Picture - The Hidden World of Women in Combat, was presented by The Royal British Legion at the Gallery@Oxo in late 2012.

The project was created to look at the role of female soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan and their attempts to engage with Afghan women. 

Below are some more photos from the exhibition, capturing Anna's time spent in Afghanistan and her role as an FEO.

All photos copyright to The Royal British Legion / Alison Baskerville.

Captain Anna Crossley opening a parcel from home

News from home

Often confined to patrol bases Anna would receive regular parcels from home. They would consist of anything from sweets to Rosehip tea and magazines.
Anna Crossley in Afghanistan washing clothes with other soldiers

Life on base

Washing clothes was limited to a bucket and hose pipe.
Anna Crossley working out in a basecamp gym in Afghanistan.

Keeping active

Anna made the most of the down time to train in the make shift gym.
Life on base in Afghanistan, Anna Crossley reading a letter by torch light

When the sun went down

In the evenings there was little to do apart from read.

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