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Cpl. Kimberly A. Martin, a lioness attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, searches an Iraqi woman in Haditha, Iraq, May 1. Lionesses have the responsibility of searching Iraqi women at traffic control points because men are forbidden to search women in Iraqi culture. Before arriving to Haditha, the Lionesses went through training at Camp Ripper, Iraq.

Photo by Cpl. Shawn Coolman

Lionesses prowl in Haditha

4 May 2008 | Cpl. Erik Villagran

Lionesses attached to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, know that they have to be on their toes, ready to pounce at any moment to ensure the safety of Marines and the local Iraqi citizens.

The Lionesses duties are unique. They are responsible for searching Iraqi females at the tactical checkpoints. The TCPs serve as “gates” into and out of Haditha.

“To adapt to the Iraqi culture they came up with the Lioness Program,” said Cpl. Kimberly A. Martin, 22, a Lioness from Cahuarita, Ariz. “It helps prevent the females from smuggling anything in order to help the insurgents. (In the Iraqi culture), men are not allowed to search females.”

The task of disrupting enemy female activity can be dangerous, but it’s a risk these Marines are willing to take to do their part. They understand they were given an opportunity to serve with the front line infantry Marines.

“I was with a non-deployable unit,” said Lance Cpl. Toni M. Wood, 22, a lioness from Belleville, Mich. “My (gunnery sergeant) offered me this chance and I jumped on it. I joined to come to Iraq.”

Before the Lionesses started working in Haditha, they had to complete training at Camp Ripper, Iraq, to prepare for their unique mission. They received training in weapons, explosive ordnance disposal, combat life support and Iraqi culture. The training they received has been instrumental in helping them accomplish their mission.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Sgt. Ethni J. Valdez, 24, a lioness. “There isn’t another job that allows you to work so closely with a grunt unit and the Iraqi people.”

Lionesses work hand in hand with infantry units, which is a new experience for a lot of the Marines. Despite initial hesitancy, the Marines have developed a respect for each other. This respect is formed from shared dangers and a dependency on each other.

“They’ve become a part of the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, family,” said Chief Warrant Officer Frank R. Pater, executive officer, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, from Ellsworth, Ohio.

The Lionesses program gives the Marine Corps a unique capability. The Marines will continue to play an active role in counter-insurgency operations.

“I think it’s been a huge success since we’ve been out here,” Valdez said. “By being here we’ve been able to provide a more secure Iraq.”