Maryland Women's Heritage Center


Once Iraq transformed from kinetic combat operations into a stabilization effort in 2005, Iraqis quickly noticed an easy way to subvert checkpoints by using Iraqi females as suicide bombers and smugglers, exploiting American compassion to Iraqi cultural norms.

In an effort to counteract this exploitation of Iraqi women, while preserving cultural ideals that prohibit men from touching Iraqi women, American military leaders took a bold step, attaching female volunteer troops to combat units.

The U.S. Marine Corps was one of the first to formally implement its "Lioness Program," where female Marines could join combat troops at checkpoints and conduct outreach operations with Iraqi women. Initially, the primary mission of Lioness Marines was to search females looking to cross these checkpoints, but the mission has evolved over the years to include Civil Affairs-type operations and cultural outreach efforts.

From the program's inception, female volunteers quickly emerged from all different military occupational specialties looking to participate in the program.

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