A Publication of WTVP

(Editor’s note: The following is an account of the work performed by an all-female team of Marines called Lioness. Lance Corporal Holly Burd of Peoria is a member of the Lioness team.)

Female Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), have been participating in civil affairs missions with the Civil Affairs Group 10, 2nd Marine Division in various cities surrounding Camp Korean Village, Iraq. The women are part of an all-female team called Lioness that was first formed several years ago to implement culturally-sensitive methods of searching Iraqi women to deter the enemy’s use of females to conduct terrorist attacks.

However, Lionesses aren’t just female searchers. In fact, they now do little to no searching at all.

Sgt. Leticia L. Eslinger, Cpl. Rachelle J. Fernandez and Lance Cpl. Holly M. Burd (of Peoria, Ill.) were tasked to help the Civil Affairs Group (CAG) gather information about the local economy using surveys and other methods of communication.

“We were sent here to support missions with the Civil Affairs Group and collect information and perspectives that our male counterparts are unable to obtain,” said Burd, who is originally from the 1st Radio Battalion. “When the locals see us, they are interested because they don’t see many females out on these missions. We use that interest to gain their trust or get perspectives that were unobtainable before.”

The need for Lionesses in Camp Korean Village, Iraq, came about last spring when Fernandez, who at the time worked with the camp’s security forces, was asked to accompany an Army Operations Team on a mission to interact with local females. Her presence in the mission was so successful that one mission turned into months of information gathering, rapport-building and engaging with the local Iraqi populace.

Capt. Natalie M. Trogus, the camp commandant, submitted a request to 2nd Marine Headquarters Group for more Lioness-trained females to join Fernandez in helping the Army Operations Team and the CAG.

“Historically, feminine interaction with adult Iraqi males has been a rarity outside of exchanges within one’s immediate family,” said Lee Bagan, an intelligence specialist and cultural expert embedded with the CAG. “Lioness presence is thereby a magnet effectively utilized to obtain ground truth, understanding and dialogue, otherwise difficult to achieve with all-male military interviews.”

The CAG focuses mainly on the city of Rutbah, a highly populated city where coalition forces have focused on providing aid to residents. This aid comes in a variety of forms, including food and water, as well as agricultural and educational needs. These efforts are designed to help citizens of the town complete the transition from reliance on coalition forces to dependence on the government of Iraq as the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces continues.

“I have established key communications in Rutbah,” Fernandez said. “I have spent three months building a strong foundation with the locals there. When working with Army Operations, we helped the locals set up a radio station, a website and a newsletter. We also helped them develop their veterinary clinics and performed medical capability missions, where we gave on-the-spot medical care to the locals.”

“Our mission in Iraq isn’t the same as it was during the invasion,” she continued. “It’s more of a rebuilding process, and that’s not something we can walk away from. When we talk to the people, we ask how progress is being made, how their government is operating and if their community is being rebuilt.”

Although the Lionesses are trained to interact with the Iraqi women, they don’t restrict themselves to only females. They have learned that even the male Iraqis are more willing to open up to them when asked about their community.

“The Lionesses are essential to our missions in gaining atmospherics in the city of Rutbah,” said Sgt. Daniel Furner, security chief with CAG. “To the Iraqi men and women, females are more approachable. They are able to communicate with the locals better.”

The presence of Lioness-trained females at Camp Korean Village continues to assist coalition and Iraqi forces in gaining knowledge of the local community’s struggles and improvements. iBi