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Monday, May 21, 2007

Band of sisters plays key role in security

21 May 2007
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Judith Owen
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 Public Affairs

CAMP AL ASAD - Three women from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 took the Navy in a new direction in the war on terrorism when, on May 3, they returned to Camp Al Asad, Iraq, as the first Seabees trained in a Marine Corps program called Lioness.

The Lioness program was born when Marine commanders needed a culturally acceptable way to conduct effective searches of Iraqi women at control points along the Iraqi border and other locations. Because men in Muslim countries are not allowed to touch women they are not related to, it was difficult to stop insurgents from using women to smuggle in arms or money. Lioness trains U.S. servicewomen to conduct searches of females, accomplishing the mission while being sensitive to Muslim women.

“This is definitely a hands-on environment, and it’s an extremely important mission,” said Marine Pfc. Brittany Cummins of the Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron. “We can’t win the hearts and minds if we don’t show respect for the culture.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Sandra Ersoff, a Lioness volunteer who served in the Haditha area of Iraq, said her experience with the Muslim women usually was very positive.

“I found the Iraqi women to be friendly and understanding of the circumstances,” said Ersoff. “Although some women were reserved, I exchanged greetings and smiles with the majority. Like mothers around the world, Iraqi women were receptive to my interaction with their children. I truly believe my presence had a positive effect on the female community of Haditha.”

Each Lioness Task Force consists of a 30- to 45-day rotation that gives female volunteers of different military branches and various occupations the opportunity to train and work with the Marine infantry force.

The training curriculum consists of a Marine Corps martial arts program refresher course, improvised explosive devices identification, rules of engagement, cultural familiarization, search techniques and other military instruction. In addition, the participants are familiarized with and afforded the opportunity to train in the use of various weapons.

“These women have volunteered to execute this difficult mission because they recognize the importance of what the Lioness program is trying to achieve,” said Capt. Kate Gregory, commodore for the 30th Naval Construction Regiment who is responsible for all Seabee personnel in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

“All of the women from each branch of service who volunteered for this program should feel proud that their accomplishments are contributing to our overall success in this fight,” she said.

The Seabees described their participation in the program as a very rewarding experience. They were afforded the opportunity to work hand in hand with the Iraqi police on a daily basis and found them to be a friendly and accommodating group.

In their experience, the vast majority of Iraqi women coming through the checkpoints were cooperative and accepting of the necessity of the searches. In between conducting searches, the Lioness volunteers took the opportunity to hand out candy and small toys to the local Iraqi children.

"These women of NMCB 28 have stepped up to offer their skills and abilities to a critical part of the security mission,” said Cmdr. Craig Scharton, commanding officer of NMCB 28. “Their senior levels of experience and maturity were critical factors to ensuring success in a job that requires situational awareness, cultural sensitivity and keen judgment."

The Lioness program is facilitated by Marine Regimental Combat Team 2 which is deployed with the II Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Iraq Freedom.

NMCB 28 is part of nearly 1,100 sailors and Marines supporting critical construction efforts in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Timothy Swanson, left, commander of 2nd Platoon, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, instructs Marines and sailors attending the Lioness Program in Al Asad, Iraq, on various improvised explosive devices being used to attack Coalition and Iraqi forces, March 27, 2007. The Lioness program also prepares female servicemembers for duties searching female Iraqis. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James R. Richardson.

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