Friday, September 5, 2008

A Lioness on the Prowl

Note: The Marine Corps “Lioness” program pulls female Marines from various job fields and trains them to conduct searches of Iraqi women at security checkpoints in Iraq. Muslim culture prohibits men from touching women they do not know. The program is the Corps’ way of being culturally sensitive while improving the security of the country.

The lionesses undergo seven days of intensive training during which they learn how to carry out their specific mission of searching female Iraqis. They familiarize themselves with a broader array of weapons, refresh their Marine Corps martial arts skills and learn basic Arabic. Once the training wraps up, the female Marines are paired up and then attached to units doing checkpoint operations across the Anbar Province.

Lance Cpl. Melissa Tugwell is a 23-year-old, Lake Charles, LA-native. She is a combat correspondent with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). She is currently serving as a lioness and will file periodic firsthand reports about the mission.

Report #1: Training

When I arrived at Camp Habaniyah to become a “lioness,” I felt like I was enrolling at a women’s college in a foreign country, not knowing exactly what I was going to major in. Female Marines of all different ages, races, religions, hometowns and job specialties are tapped for this assignment.

All the soon-to-be lionesses quickly bonded, as we collectively wondered what was ahead of us. We'd heard what it's like being a lioness, but everyone had different stories and no one was really sure.

The training has been a mix of classes with Power Point demonstrations and a series of practical applications of the classroom concepts. We’ve gotten a lot of information in a short period of time. We had just seven days of training before we would officially be lionesses and sent off to different units. Every minute of these seven days of training has been jam-packed to get us completely ready.

Our first subject - Arabic 101. We learned words, phrases and numbers to communicate with the women of Iraq. We also learned how to ask basic questions such as "How are you?", "How many children do you have?”, and "Where do you live?"

Our language instructor was an Iraqi civilian who grew up in Bagdad. He quickly became a friend to all of us. He shared with us his experiences growing up and the changes that have taken place. Talking with him was insightful and gave me a deeper understanding of their culture, religion and way of living.

Everyone displayed a genuine curiosity about the Iraqi culture and language. Bridging the language barrier is critical for lionesses to effectively do our job and show the Iraqi civilians that we care and that we are here to help.

Moving out of the classroom, we conducted a practical application of a security checkpoint where role players pretended to be Iraqi females. As soon as the scenario kicked off, everyone realized just how difficult it is to apply the Arabic we learned in the classroom. There are so many dialects of Arabic and all of them have different slang. Our confidence grew, however, as we repeated the rehearsals. We learned what we needed to get the mission accomplished.

Other topics covered during the training included convoy operations, combat life-saving skills, maintaining a combat mindset, Marine Corps martial arts and the proper ways of searching female Iraqis. We also spent a lot of time at the range shooting our M-16 and M-4 service rifles, the M-240 squad automatic weapon, M-249 medium machine gun and AK-47 automatic rifles. In one day, we shot over 4,000 rounds of ammunition.

By the end of the training, our “cammies” could literally stand up alone from the sweat of training in the desert. 19 female Marines had quickly adjusted to a new environment and a new mission. The days flew by with the fast-paced schedule. I was exhausted at the end of each day, which made showering and brushing my teeth at the end of the day seem like a chore. Some spent their little free time reading and studying. Others, myself included, gathered in the smoke pit to discuss their thoughts about the experience.

Now that it’s time to head off to our units, everyone is excited to put our training to the test of being lionesses.

*Photo courtesy of The Lioness officer-in-charge 1stLt. Jessica Millanes


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/05/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

lela said...

Stay safe, Lioness!

fly on the wall said...

Oh, to be young! I wish I were with you, but my spirit is. You're the best of us. Thank you.

soldier fun said...

You have a good blog.
Please visit my fun blog on:
Be happy.