AL ASAD, Iraq --
Most Marines who deploy expect to be staring into the face of danger at some point. For some Marines, that danger is minimal, but, for some female Marines and Sailors, no matter which forward operating base they work on in the Al Anbar province, they are the ones holding off the danger.
Marines like Gunnery Sgt. Tara Duncan, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the administrative section of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29, and Cpl. Sheila Brooks, a combat camera photographer with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, are examples of people who do not feel threatened while serving aboard Al Asad; but during their time in the Lioness program, it was a different story.
“Before going, I had the ‘fear of the unknown,’ meaning I didn't know what to expect,” said Brooks, who searched Iraqi females on a daily basis. “After going, I see that it is a great thing for female service members to do. Not only did we interact with Iraqi's on a daily basis, but we get to see how Coalition efforts are helping the country.”
The Lioness program adheres to Middle Eastern cultures by using female service members to speak to and search the Iraqi females. The 30 to 45-day tour posts female Marines and Sailors at strategic high traffic areas where there are many Iraqi women who must be searched before being permitted to enter secure areas.
“There is a need for the Lioness program because Iraqi women need to be searched as well as the men,” said Duncan, a Lioness detachment SNCOIC. “There aren’t any females attached to (infantry) units so it’s important to have female augments come in and search the Iraqi females.”
Before heading to their designated posts, every Marine and Sailor with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing receives training on Al Asad with experienced infantry Marines from Regimental Combat Team 2.
The five-day Lioness training course features training in escalation of force, explosive ordnance disposal, weapons handling and martial arts training. The course also gives the female service members a crash course in the Arabic language, teaching them key words and phrases for everyday use.
“(Chief Warrant Officer 3 Terrence) Washington and his Marines at RCT-2 were a very professional group,” said Duncan. “They made sure we had the training we needed. The other Marines and I took the training very seriously because this was the first time we were going out into a hostile environment.”
Before leaving they also received English to Arabic dictionaries, a tool which they relied on, said Duncan. But, the female service members also relied on their Iraqi Police counterparts to communicate with the local citizens.
By working together with the Iraqi Police at these posts, the Lionesses ensure the flow of foot traffic is steady and secure. The Iraqi citizens pass through these checkpoints to get on forward operating bases to visit civil affairs groups for reparations or driving privileges and for medical attention from Coalition hospitals.
Before allowing any Iraqis onto the base, they are searched several times. The training the Lionesses receive teaches them how to properly search for any harmful contraband.
Although they may have been in danger, for most service members the benefits outweigh the risk. While serving on the Lioness program, they are keeping other service members safe as well as Iraqi civilians.
“Prior to the Lioness program, females or men dressing like women used to smuggle weapons, money and information,” said Brooks, a Philadelphia native. “The Lioness program mitigates the chances of this happening, thus saving American and Iraqi lives.”