“I packed up my whole life. It’s all in storage right now so, if I didn’t make it through selection, I was literally not going back to anything,” said Staff Sgt. Rachel Fisher, 448th Civil Affairs Battalion based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Fischer was one of 85 Soldiers, and one of four with the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), who went through a 10-day assessment and selection process for a chance to attend a female-only program taught by the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School located here.

In its sixth class iteration, the Cultural Support Team program fills an important role within the Army’s special operations community.

“The CST course was developed to fill a need and requirement that two units essentially had,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Barnes, CST chief instructor. “One being for the direct action assets, or surgical strike teams. The Ranger Regiment needed females on the battlefield to search women and children when they went into the objective. The other side, the special warfare side, the village stability operations, Special Forces groups and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command needed females to interact with the female populace.”

Fischer first heard about the CST program from a fellow Soldier while she was working as a subject matter expert at the civil affairs reclassification course in early 2012.

In November 2012, after obtaining her master’s degree in conflict archeology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Fischer returned to the U.S. and applied for the CST program.

In anticipation of the physically and mentally challenging selection process, Fischer prepared by hitting the gym for two hours a day and doing online Army courses.

“I did a lot of PT. Mobility, cardio and regular strength training,” she said. “I read up a lot on the basic Soldier skills and just knowledge about Afghanistan. I don’t think I could have prepared any differently.”

Of of the 85 who showed up for assessment and selection, only 37 were selected to attend the five-week cultural support training course.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story about USACAPOC’s Cultural Support team. For part two, see next week’s Paraglide.)