Lioness: Women in Combat

Lioness: Women in Combat

There's a disconnect between what U.S. policy says female soldiers can do and the fighting they are actually doing, so they're not getting the training they need.

Department of Defense policy bars female soldiers from direct ground combat, but for the four other female soldiers profiled in the 82-minute documentary “Lioness,” that regulation meant little in the heat of battle. Attached to all-male combat units in the Army and the Marines as part of the Lioness program, the female troops were used to search Muslim women as needed and to defuse the cultural tensions caused by strange men interacting with Iraqi women. But when fighting broke out, the female soldiers had no choice but to fight back.

Part of the “Independent Lens” series, “Lioness” aired nationally on public television stations on Nov. 13. It tells the story of a group of female Army support soldiers who became the first women in American history to be sent into direct ground combat. Without sufficient training, these young women ended up fighting in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war. Lioness makes public, for the first time, this hidden history.

Told through intimate accounts, journal excerpts, archival footage, as well as interviews with military commanders, the film follows five Lioness women who served together for a year in Iraq. With captivating detail, this probing documentary reveals the unexpected consequences that began by using these Army women to defuse tensions with local civilians, but resulted in their fighting alongside Marine combat units in the streets of Ramadi. Together the women’s candid narratives describing their experiences in Iraq and scenes from their lives back home form a portrait of the emotional and psychological effects of war from a female point of view.

This shorter New York Times op-ed video is by the directors of “Lioness,” and underscores how the Iraq war unintentionally produced the first generation of female combat veterans – and yet failed to train or equip them for combat tasks.

Incorporating actual combat footage with interviews of female soldiers, this video makes the point that the nature of the Iraq war — fuzzy front lines and guerrilla tactics — has thrust more female soldiers (who represent 14 percent of active-duty enlisted personnel) into enemy fire than ever before. And, like the men, the women sometimes find the return to civilian life difficult, suffering the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and the depression and sleeplessness that come with it.

New York filmmakers Meg McLagan (a cultural anthropologist whose work includes “Tibet in Exile”) and Daria Sommers (“Eastern Spirit, Western World” and “Duncan’s Shadow”) say they expect that “Lioness” would reinvigorate a debate about the role of women in combat and how best to serve the needs of these veterans.

Length: 5:12

Director/Producer: Meg McLagan, Daria Sommers
Co-producer, editor: Stephen T. Maing

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