Monday, May 04, 2009

Lioness Prowls in Iraq

A female Marine is serving as a machine gunner in Iraq as part of the Lioness program.



AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – A city girl from coastal California shocked her relatives and friends when she became the first in her family to join the Marine Corps in 2005.

Cpl. Susy H. Aguilar started her Marine Corps career as a supply clerk at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., and shortly thereafter deployed to Iraq in 2006.

During her 2006 deployment, Aguilar stepped out of the warehouse and into the ranks of an infantry unit to serve as a female searcher as a Lioness. The Lioness program was introduced earlier in Operation Iraqi Freedom to ease cultural sensitivities over interaction between Coalition forces and Iraqi females, and Aguilar jumped at the chance to serve with an all-male infantry unit. Her experiences with the grunts had a profound impact on her.

“There was a time when we were out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere,” said Aguilar, recalling her first combat experience. “I was already scared as it was, and then we started to get mortared.”

“There was a little [Iraqi] boy who I had been interacting with,” she said. “He was really scared and wouldn’t leave my side. One of the grunts came back, gave me his flak jacket and told me to put it on the boy.
“He had no problem giving up his flak and risking his own safety. That is when I decided I wanted to do a more combat-related [job]. I wanted to be more like them.”

Prior to beginning her next deployment to Iraq, Aguilar volunteered to go through the machine gunner’s course not thinking she, as a female, would be called upon to put these skills to use.

Though she had her doubts, Aguilar had already extended her contract to the Marine Corps in hopes of experiencing the deployment from the turret of an armored vehicle.

“I was really shocked when my name was called and I had been chosen,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar was then assigned to Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), and deployed for her second tour to Iraq in February 2009. Not only was Aguilar new to the company, she also had to establish her capabilities in the eyes of her male counterparts.

“I wasn’t nervous, but I knew I had to prove myself to them when I was taking apart the gun, cleaning it, or doing a test fire,” she said. “I always felt like they were watching me to see if I knew what I was doing.”

However, it didn’t take long for the platoon to realize that Aguilar had what it took to be a gunner and could be counted upon to provide fire support if necessary.

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