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Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. Eight female Marines from different units within 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing volunteered for the Lioness Program to conduct security searches of women crossing into Iraq.

Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Jones

Female Marines train for Iraq border security

13 Aug 2006 | Staff Sgt. Raymie G. Cruz

To strengthen the fight in the Global War on Terror, female Marines have been implemented at tactical control points along the Iraqi borders to stop insurgents from using women smugglers to gain funds or weapons to support their efforts.

Eight female Marines from different units within 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing volunteered for the Lioness Program and will conduct security searches of women crossing into Iraq.

"I wanted to do something different," said Sgt. Alice Dunne, electrical equipment repair specialist, Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, and an Oxford, Wis., native. "In Al Asad, you never feel like you're in the fight, you are just doing your job."

The Lioness Program was born of necessity when commanders saw a troubling situation during raids and other missions, according to Sgt. Maj. Brian K. Jackson, sergeant major, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW.

"The men they sent charging into the city, often into private homes, made Iraqi women uneasy," said Jackson, a Gary, Ind., native. "Searching the women proved difficult, as Muslim culture dictates that men are not to touch women they don't know."

To prevent violations of the culture and the smuggling of arms and funds into the country, the Lioness Program was implemented.

During the 30-day rotation of the Lioness Program, the selected Marines received briefs and appropriate training from Regimental Combat Team 7 personnel, before going to Camp Korean Village, Iraq. They were briefed on the program, in addition to what their duties would entail.

"This is a good opportunity for female Marines to do something outside of their Military Occupational Specialty and get a chance to work with the infantry," said Master Sgt. Scott R. Zaehler, operations chief, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, RCT-7, and a McHenry, Ill., native. "A big part of what they do is showing their presence. Just being seen by insurgents works as a deterrent and keeps them off balance."

Upon arriving at Camp Korean Village, the Marines received more intense classes on procedures and how to properly handle themselves in various situations. The training included everything from proper search techniques to shooting from supported firing positions.

"The training put you in the combat mindset that every Marine is a rifleman, regardless of gender," said Lance Cpl. Hollye K. Meeks, motor transport vehicle operator, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, and a Houston, Texas native. "It was realistic training to help familiarize you with your gear, and your weapon. I don't know what to expect, but I'll expect the worst, hope for the best and rely on my training."

The program has been operational for three months and their role has helped win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

"The Lioness Program has worked very well," said Master Sgt. Jose A. Reyna, operations chief, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 7 and a Murrieta, Calif., native. "They are doing a good job and are getting to know the people very well. Some of the families seem like they almost want to adopt (the Marines) into their own family."

"I wanted to see a different part of the Marine Corps," said Lance Cpl. Katheryn A. Saldarriaga, nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear response team member, from Glendale, Calif.  "I wanted to see the culture and the people."

Although most of the volunteers are from different units and military occupations, they have bonded as a tight-knit team and have learned to count on each other in the short time they have trained together.

"I have confidence in the rest of the team," said Cpl. Valerie Gavaldon, combat engineer, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, MWSG-37, and El Paso, Texas, native. "I'm confident they can handle the mission. We're showing people that females have a special mission in this war as well."
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