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Team Lioness - Female Soldiers in Combat in Iraq
November 14, 2008 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Team Lioness is the name given to a group of female soliders, (and the documentary about them) who were some of the first women in modern American warfare to engage in frontline combat — something that is officially forbidden by the military. "The female support soliders were assigned to the 1st Engineer Battalion and they were recruited to accompany Marine units during raids. Originally, the female soldiers were there to search and detain any women they came upon and to guard the unit's Arabic interpreter. Over time, however, as the situation in Ramadi deteriorated, the Marine units transitioned into a more offensive role, baiting insurgents into firefights in order to draw them out. Until officers higher up the chain got spooked over the possibility of a female soldier killed in combat and quietly disbanded the unit, members of Team Lioness were often right in the thick of things, including some of the fiercest urban firefights of the Iraq War."
posted by nooneyouknow (22 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
...and then there were women in combat at a time when women were not supposed to join up and fight:

"...Politics aside it took an awesome amount of courage to enlist and fight. While a number of women helped out by becoming nurses and spies, others took frontline positions. There are at least 400 cases in the Union Army of women dressing up as men to fight. There were also a number of Southern women who joined the fight for the Confederacy. Some were caught right away and sent home, but more than a few saw their share of combat. The men they served with often times kept their secret, and treated them as comrades.

Pennsylvania native Mrs. Francis L. Clayton enlisted with her husband in 1861 and fought together in 18 battles. She was wounded three times, captured once and saw her husband die at Stone River. After that she told her commanding officer who she was and she was discharged with full honors and went home to bury her husband. Another married couple served at Antietam where the wife was recognized for bravery and promoted during her two years of service. One officer reported that a corporal under his command who had been promoted to sergeant and had served gallantly at Fredericksburg returned home after giving birth.

Those who survived the shot and the shell of a Civil War battlefield still had to engage in hand to hand combat with the enemy under the worst conditions. It took everything a soldier had to survive on the battlefield, and both men and women gave it everything they had. Today women serve in many positions in the United States military and are police officers and martial arts instructors. Women have come a long way, but still many don't think they belong in combat. Some seem to think women can't be aggressive enough or worse - that a life of a woman is worth more then the life of a man. Maybe not all women are fit to serve, but not all men are either and we should never forget those who served bravely before...."
posted by Postroad at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2008


Just for some perspective, Canada opened up combat arms to female soldiers in 1990, the first Canadian female combat casualty occurred in Afghanistan over two years ago. Also noteworthy is that she was a captain, leading others, and not just a plug.

Israel, well known for its female conscription, began opening combat trades to women in 1994, and currently have 450 women in combat roles.
posted by furtive at 11:59 AM on November 14, 2008


I look forward to the die when young women, too, can regularly die in horrible and painful ways. Or perhaps just come home mangled and broken.
posted by Justinian at 12:04 PM on November 14, 2008


day, die, whatever.
posted by Justinian at 12:04 PM on November 14, 2008


Many, many women fought on the front lines in WWII for the Soviets. Lyudmila Pavlichenko shot over 300 Germans in cold blood as a sniper.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2008


I look forward to the die when young women, too, can regularly die in horrible and painful ways. Or perhaps just come home mangled and broken.

I look forward to the day we can serve with dignity in all combat roles without condescending rules meant to protect us from war. Women die in war every day. It's only right that those who choose to fight in one as soldiers are allowed to do so.
posted by Tehanu at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


There have been women warriors throughout history from the Amazons to Zenobia of Syria. Unfortunately we don't know much about about them because history is written by the victors.
posted by brneyedgrl at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2008


... the Marine units transitioned into a more offensive role, baiting insurgents into firefights in order to draw them out....

'Baiting insurgents'? 'Offensive role'? Women or not, I can't get past the idea that's it's just plain wrong to participate in this war at all and even more so in this way.
posted by grounded at 1:15 PM on November 14, 2008


This is the natural progression of a war without a front line. Support roles quickly become combat roles. Of course, in Afbagistan it's been all about the combat for quite some time.
posted by butterstick at 1:44 PM on November 14, 2008


Watched this on PBS last night. Strong stuff.
posted by bonefish at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2008


Sgt. Fury and Her Howling Commandoes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2008


Dr. Ruth Westheimer was a sniper in the Israeli Army (though she never killed anyone).
posted by IAmBroom at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2008


There is no such thing as partial equality. If women are the equals of men, they must serve where men serve, as their abilities allow, and be granted all privileges, according to their individual merits.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2008


I look forward to the die when young women, too, can regularly die in horrible and painful ways. Or perhaps just come home mangled and broken.

Where have you been? They already are.

There's very little about Iraq that is not-a-potential-combat-zone. If you're a (female) grunt whose job is to drive a truck, and the roads are pocked with IEDs, and you're expected to shoot back if someone shoots at you, then you are in a combat zone. The military can make all the fictions they want about women not being in combat positions, but it's just that - fiction.
posted by rtha at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know why, but it is less depressing for me to think about men and women dying in war together. Maybe it's because I've been reading about the "Lost Generation" of men who died in WWI, and remembering that so many women of their generation never married or had families because so many men died. It would still be tragic with so many people dying, but if it had been more sex balanced, it would have been less tragic. And also because it doesn't burden one gender with all the horror, and the other with all the helplessness and waiting. And I would certainly rather fight and die before I ever let any son of mine die --

in fact, wars should be fought by middle aged people. People who have had time to live and time to have children. The politicians are our age - they should kill people their own age, not younger.
posted by jb at 5:47 PM on November 14, 2008


Great post, thank you. I'll check this out on PBS tomorrow.

One thing that bothers me about this policy is that it tends to be more difficult to advance to high rank in non-combat jobs, and without combat honors, even though some of the "non-combat" positions are often just as dangerous. These women sign up to serve, same as the men, and they face many of the same risks, yet they cannot enter the same jobs no matter how qualified they may be, and they're not rewarded in the same way for their success. Seems unfair to me; I think that women who can pass the standards should be able to serve in combat positions.

It is instructive to note that many people said women could never be combat pilots fifteen years ago; many of the same arguments were raised, and yet female pilots have now proven themselves beyond question. Similarly, I've a feeling that this is also more of an "issue" than an issue, especially since women are already engaging in ground combat in all but name.
posted by vorfeed at 6:47 PM on November 14, 2008


'Baiting insurgents'? 'Offensive role'? Women or not, I can't get past the idea that's it's just plain wrong to participate in this war at all and even more so in this way.

Standard counterinsurgency doctrine. The point of being a guerrilla force is that you avoid direct confrontation as much as possible, to preserve your smaller numbers and limited supplies, while taking advantage of initiative and terrain. The only other option for a formal military unit is to sit (or drive) around and wait to get shot at. Instigating firefights allows you to choose where and when you fight, by drawing the guerrilla force into a pitched battle of your choosing.
posted by dhartung at 9:58 PM on November 14, 2008


Sri Lanka's Black Tigers — When the Suicide Bomber is a Woman:
The denim vest is a simple garment, tailored to fit the young woman’s body. Narrow shoulder straps hold the midsection in place. It’s not high fashion, but that doesn’t matter, since the first time it’s worn will also be the last. The large disk that rests under the breast area is filled with a mass of 3-mm steel balls, and behind that, next to the skin, sits a C-4 plastic explosive. Two detonators, one on either side of her body, require just a gentle tug. Then, in an instant, the vest wearer becomes a human bomb, capable of killing or maiming dozens of people within a 100-foot radius.

Menake’s vest fit her well. She tried it on several times to make sure it lay snugly against her chest. She practiced reaching for the detonators without arousing suspicion. She thought hard about the best outfit to disguise its deadly purpose, settling on a sequined top whose shimmer would distract the eye from what lay beneath.

The 27-year-old woman is not what we picture when we hear “suicide bomber.” With her long black hair neatly pulled back from her chocolate-colored skin, she is shy, soft-spoken — the kind of person you’d trust with your kids. But Menake is also a member of the Black Tigers, the suicide commando squad of Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist group that has more female suicide bombers than any other organization in the world.
Has one woman's terrorist become another woman's freedom fighter?
posted by cenoxo at 11:03 PM on November 14, 2008


I look forward to the day when robots do all the killing and dying.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:25 PM on November 14, 2008


...and they're not rewarded in the same way for their success. Seems unfair to me; I think that women who can pass the standards should be able to serve in combat positions.


I don't feel at all unrewarded for my success as a female soldier. At least, not any more than any other soldier is unrewarded for success. I got promotions, medals, badges, etc. just the same as the males in my position.

Honestly, in my experience, it's been mainly civilians who complain about women not being allowed "in combat". (At least, in myth. Saw combat. Am a woman.) But I spent 4 1/2 years in the Army, and the amount of disgruntled female soldiers that I spoke to is very small. Even at places like air assault school, the most I ever really heard was a desire to go to ranger school, or maybe passive interest in armor (tanks). Nowhere close to the amount of 'concern' I've heard from civilians over the years.

Anyway, thanks for the post nooneyouknow. I think the name 'Team Lioness' is kind of lame, but the story isn't. Will be checking out the film.
posted by lullaby at 11:41 PM on November 15, 2008


I don't feel at all unrewarded for my success as a female soldier. At least, not any more than any other soldier is unrewarded for success. I got promotions, medals, badges, etc. just the same as the males in my position.

The males in your position aren't what I'm talking about. It's very clear that women in the military have the same opportunities as men in the same positions. My problem is that they don't have the same opportunities with regard to position itself, even if they can pass the standards for those positions, and even though (in many cases) they are facing some of the same risks in their "non-combat" positions.

Honestly, in my experience, it's been mainly civilians who complain about women not being allowed "in combat". (At least, in myth. Saw combat. Am a woman.) But I spent 4 1/2 years in the Army, and the amount of disgruntled female soldiers that I spoke to is very small. Even at places like air assault school, the most I ever really heard was a desire to go to ranger school, or maybe passive interest in armor (tanks). Nowhere close to the amount of 'concern' I've heard from civilians over the years.

Couldn't some of that be due to the fact that a woman who wants to go to Ranger school or into an armor MOS knows she is wishing for the impossible? I mean, I'm not expecting women to be deeply disgruntled over the fact that they have a great job with great benefits, but that doesn't mean that some of them might not be even happier in one of the jobs they can't have. I think you might see more female interest in combat jobs, if the option were available.

In short, I don't find it at all surprising that most military women are happy with the jobs that are available. I just think it's a shame that they have to choose from that set of jobs, even if there's a combat role they have aptitude for. At any rate, I suspect it'll be a moot point in another 20 years, anyway. As more and more women end up in combat, the "they can't be in combat" argument will look more and more outdated...
posted by vorfeed at 11:34 AM on November 16, 2008


Couldn't some of that be due to the fact that a woman who wants to go to Ranger school or into an armor MOS knows she is wishing for the impossible? I mean, I'm not expecting women to be deeply disgruntled over the fact that they have a great job with great benefits, but that doesn't mean that some of them might not be even happier in one of the jobs they can't have. I think you might see more female interest in combat jobs, if the option were available.

Well, wishing for the impossible never stopped any soldier from complaining about anything... 24/7. I see your point, and I could buy that some women don't even bring it up because it's pointless, but when one female soldier says something along the lines of "I wish I could do [x] but we're not allowed" and most others shrug and say they don't really care... it contributes to my understanding that this seems to be a bigger issue for civilians than female soldiers. Which isn't to say that females in the military don't want at least some of it to change, but I suppose my point was more that this always seems to be a more pressing issue to others.

Of course, "in combat" is a false argument anyway, since women are already in combat, just not in combat arms. Personally, I believe that the exclusion should be lifted from field artillery, combat engineers, and armor provided the standards remain the same. I don't believe the exclusion should be lifted from infantry and special forces. These aren't ordinary jobs, and thus the 'inequality' is not the same to me. And while I know it's not an either/or thing, there are other women-related issues that I'd rather the military address before cracking down on this.

Although I agree that the military will be different 20 years from now, for more than just this...
posted by lullaby at 2:29 PM on November 16, 2008


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