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Defense Department officials launch 'Lessons Learned' blog

WASHINGTON -- For anyone who has served in the military, whether in uniform or as a family member, the concept of sharing lessons learned is a familiar one. A new Defense Department blog that launches Aug. 2 seeks to bring those lessons to an accessible online platform.

Titled "In Their Own Words: Lessons Learned in Today's Military," the blog aims to provide a platform for servicemembers, veterans and families to share their thoughts and experiences on a variety of topics. Each month, the blog will feature a different topic ranging from lessons from multiple deployments to lessons from the military family.

As a first topic, "In Their Own Words" features female servicemembers engaged in work that is unique to them. With the increasing prevalence of "female engagement teams" in Afghanistan and the perspective of female servicemembers engaged in similar work in Iraq, the landscape is filled with lessons learned and experiences to share.

However, the blog postings in August will not be limited to Iraq and Afghanistan.

L. Tammy Duckworth, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs, will share the lessons she has learned while working to increase the resources available for the growing population of female veterans.

A retired Navy captain who forged what was a unique path at the time in the intelligence field as a female officer also will contribute a posting.

The series kicks off with a posting from Marine Corps Lt. Col. Diana Staneszewski, who serves as an "AfPak Hand" in Afghanistan. The AfPak Hand program works to build better, long-term relationships with the Afghan and Pakistani people. Colonel Staneszewski works at building these relationships face to face in the language of the people.

"As a Western woman who speaks Pashto," she wrote, "I have blown more Afghan minds than you can imagine. I have been outside the wire three times a week for the last four weeks. Everywhere I go, I am constantly invited to have tea with the men, and the boys and girls flock to me. Here is an example. I walk out on patrol with the men. I see a group of men in a little store. They ignore the entire patrol. I walk up say, 'Hello, how are you? My name is "Moskaa"' -- my Pashto name, which means 'smile,' is written on my helmet and is on my outer tactical vest on a patch -- and then everyone's jaws drop."

Colonel Staneszewski shares her first-person experiences with the people of Afghanistan in the blog.

"The first question I get is where did I learn my Pashto?" she writes. "The second question is where am I from? I always joke and say I am Kandahari, and then say I am joking (and that) I am American. The Afghans get the joke and smile. Then I keep speaking, asking and answering questions, and soon they tell me, 'Yes, you are Kandahari. You are not American.' Now, I accomplish all this with my minimal Pashto familiarization, a smile, and a little personality."