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Lioness program continues to roar

19 Mar 2008 | Cpl. Shawn Coolman

These Lionesses don’t have to stalk their prey; their prey comes to them willingly.

The four Lionesses here in Haditha City, Iraq, are female Marines who currently serve with 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. Their job is to search Iraqis women as they travel through the cities checkpoints.

The Lionesses here were pulled from various units and attended a 10-day course on the techniques, tactics and procedures of searching females and children.

In a culture where many women still cover their faces due to religious beliefs, it is disrespectful for a male to search females. The Lioness program was started so that Iraqi women could be searched in a way that wasn’t against their culture.

“In the Iraqi culture, it’s disrespectful for a male to just look at the females.” said Cpl. Jennifer San Martin, 24, a lioness attached to 3rd Bn., 23rd Marines, who is from Katy, Texas. “And that’s where we come in. We’re here to reach out to the Iraqi females, because male Marines can’t search them and can’t really even speak to them.”

Although it is normal to see women in leadership positions in the U.S., it is quite uncommon here.

“Not only does it give the Iraqi females a sense of equality, it gives a sense of equality too a lot of females in the military,” added San Martin while searching a female. “A lot of females (in the military) don’t get to do what we are doing.”

San Martin’s partner, who provides security while the searches are being conducted, Cpl. Tracy R. Hauk, 21, has similar thoughts.

“We’re out here with the grunts (infantryman) everyday and in the line of danger proving to the males that we can hack it, too,” said Hauk, who is from Fenton, Mich.

The trend to transition the country from Coalition force control to Iraqi control is prevalent here as well.

In other areas of Iraq, female Iraqis are beginning to train with the Lionesses, said Hauk, who grew up in Genesee County.

“They do the one thing we can not do: search the females coming through the check point. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do our job right,” said Sgt. Arnulfo, 29, a Company L, 3rd Bn., 23rd Marines, team leader, who is from Houston.