HABBINIYAH, Iraq --
As the desert sun beat intensely on the backs of the Marines lying in the prone position the sound of rifle fire filled the air. After unloading their weapons, the Marines removed their helmets, revealing a mess of untidy hair, which they smartly swept back into regulated perfection.
Female Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) are participating in the Lioness program, an all-female team designed to teach service members culturally-sensitive methods to search Iraqi women.
The Lioness program is a volunteer duty, comprised of Marines from a myriad of job fields. The Lioness program gives these females a chance to work outside of their normal jobs as well as giving 3rd MAW Marines a chance to work on the groundside.
“This environment is totally different from my normal job,” explained Cpl. Gizelle Gutierrez, an embark clerk for Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd MAW (Fwd.). “Normally, I am moving equipment or loading planes and now I have the opportunity to be in a combat zone, dealing with the Iraqi people on a daily basis.”
The Lioness team consists of service members from several subordinate units of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), including 1st Marine Logistics Group and 3rd MAW. The group works alongside infantry units throughout al-Anbar province, standing post at entry control points to prevent any suspicious individuals from causing violence in the area.
“The mission of the Lioness program is to eliminate potential threats brought in by women,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeanette Fulgencio, the chief instructor for the program and comptroller staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge for Marine Wing Headquarter Squadron 3, 3rd MAW (Fwd.). “We are looking for any suspicious activity or threats.”
Throughout the ten-day training, Marines learn a variety of skills vital to their upcoming missions. Along with language classes from interpreters, the Marines practice take-down maneuvers from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and learn combat lifesaving techniques, putting everything together at a mock control point.
Upon completion of the training, small teams are sent to different cities across the region, to support the efforts of various operating units.
As the military’s mission continues transitioning to the roles of advisor and supervisor to the Iraqis, the mission of the Lionesses adjusts as needed. Recently, the team has begun passing on their training to the Iraqi women, with demonstrations on how to search other females entering the check points.
The intent of training the Iraqi women is to one day pass on the responsibility of security to Iraq’s own people.
“Each day we are on post, we are teaching them and we are proving that we are not here to harm them,” said Sgt. Tawni Miller, a generator mechanic with 1st Marine Headquarters Group, I MEF. “We’re here to make their country a more peaceful place.”