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Final Thoughts on Women and War: How Stories Can Make a Difference

written by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers
on June 08, 2010

Part of our motivation in making Lioness was to close the gap between perception and reality regarding the role of women in the military. From the moment we began filming in 2005, we sensed we were breaking new ground. Of the films dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, none had embraced the experiences of women soldiers head on. It was our good fortune to connect with the five Lioness soldiers from the 1st Engineer Battalion. Not only did they come to understand the historical value of narrating their experiences, they were keen to tell their stories so that Americans who had no personal connection to military might come to understand the experiences of those who serve in their name. As Major Kate Guttormsen, the highest-ranking woman in the 1st Engineer Battalion during its 2003-2004 deployment, wrote after the film was released:

"When the filmmakers came to me four years ago asking to interview me about our Lioness missions I felt it was a great opportunity to tell our story. I am even more certain of that now. More than anything else, the release of this film has increased the public's awareness of women's evolving role in combat. Regardless of personal philosophies on what women should or should not be doing for our Armed Services, everyone should be aware of the capacity in which many currently serve. The sacrifice that soldiers and their family members make is often overlooked. Today in the United States there is a gap between our military and the American people. The explanation is simple; we have a volunteer force in which only a tiny segment of the population serves. Those who aren't touched by current conflicts don't care."

As filmmakers we are grateful to all our subjects — Major Kate Guttormsen, Major Anastasia Breslow, Staff Sgt. Ranie Ruthig, Shannon Morgan and Rebecca Nava — for working with us and allowing us to share their experiences with Americans across the country through the film. They should be proud, because their stories have had a tangible impact on raising awareness at the highest levels.

On March 31, 2009, a screening of Lioness on Capitol Hill, along with appearances by four Lionesses, helped launch Senator Patty Murray's (D-WA) comprehensive bi-partisan legislation to prepare the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years and address many of the unique needs of female veterans, particularly those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Just last month, on May 5, 2010, President Obama signed that legislation into law as part of The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.

Senator Murray recently recognized the pivotal contribution of both the film and the Lioness soldiers' stories: "The documentary Lioness helped drive home the importance of this legislation by putting names and faces to a new generation of female veterans" said Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "The brave women depicted in the film have helped lawmakers understand the sacrifices and challenges women face as soldiers and veterans."

While we hope Lioness can continue to raise awareness, we also hope that the act of storytelling, as exemplified by the five women in our film, can open the door for other veterans, both women and men, to come forward, tell their stories and receive the validation and recognition they deserve within their families and communities.

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