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On April 6, 2004, a U.S. Marine combat unit made its way through Ramadi’s narrow streets on a hunt for Iraqi insurgents. As the soldiers turned a corner they were ambushed, sparking a series of firefights that spread across the city and ignited a week of bloody combat. Specialist Morgan and Sergeant Ruthig, both squad automatic gunners, survived this battle, while others soldiers were not as lucky. But subsequent press reports neglected to mention one thing: that both Morgan and Ruthig are women.
Despite a Department of Defense policy banning women from direct ground combat, U.S. military commanders have been using women as an essential part of their ground operations in Iraq since 2003. The female soldiers who accompany male troops on patrols and house-to-house searches are known as Team Lioness, and have proved to be invaluable. Their presence not only helps calm women and children, but Lioness troops are also able to conduct searches of the women, without violating cultural strictures. Against official policy and without the training given to their male counterparts, and with a firm commitment to serve as needed, these dedicated young women have been drawn into the fighting in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles in Iraq. Yet they are rarely—if ever—mentioned in news accounts of those battles.
LIONESS profiles five women who saw action in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle during 2003 and 2004. As members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Engineer Battalion, Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Pendry Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow and Ranie Ruthig were sent to Iraq to provide supplies and logistical support to their male colleagues. Not trained for combat duty, the women unexpectedly became involved with fighting in the streets of Ramadi.
Told through interviews, journal excerpts and archival footage, LIONESS offers a portrait of five soldiers who are also wives, mothers and daughters, and who have long coped with the demands of military life, especially the sacrifices involved in leaving behind spouses and young children. These combat-tested women exemplify what it means to be a good soldier, and illustrate the complicated role that women play in direct war combat. Reflecting on their recent deployment, the Lionesses display strength and candor, bridging the gap between the perception and the reality of the essential role women are playing in Iraq.
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