View Full Version : II MHG female search team finds role in duty

07-22-05, 06:14 AM
II MHG female search team finds role in duty
II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)
Story by Sgt. Christi Prickett

FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 22, 2005) -- Large operations in Al Anbar province continue as Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen endure the heat in Iraq to carry out insurgency-fighting missions. One group of service members remain in the international spotlight through it all.

Women Marines and Sailors are filling duties in Fallujah just as their male counterparts, despite global media attention. Many of them are serving in various billets without question or even at a moment’s notice.

“I found out I was going to be doing entry-control-point duty three days before I went out,” said Lance Cpl. Diana L. Kavanek, engineer, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Headquarters Group, II MEF (FWD). “It was a little shocking to me because I didn’t know I would ever be pulled for a duty like that. But I was ready to do my part.”

Headquarters and Service Company, II MHG, was chosen to fill spots on the ECP female search team after a vehicle-born improvised explosive device killed five Marines and a Sailor, three of whom were female, and injured several more on June 23.

Major Michael J. Corrado, company commander, H&S Company, II MHG, II MEF (FWD), knew of the empty billets only days before the females were scheduled to leave.

“My initial thought was to accomplish the mission by supporting Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, and not let those bastards who bombed that seven-ton think they would weaken our resolve,” explained Corrado. “My next thought was ‘Where are we going to find the Marines to replace them’? Many of the H&S Company Marines are wearing two and three hats already.”

Entry-control-point duty is allowing some females a chance to fulfill their concept of women in the military.

“This is my opportunity to go out there and do my job,” said Lance Cpl. Christy Phim, supply warehouse clerk, II MHG. “I think we should be treated as Marines, not given special treatment based on our gender. I don’t mind ECP duty because I wanted to get out of my office and do what I joined the Marines for.”

The women are going out to check points trained and are required to wear full combat gear, in 100 degree plus temperatures, just as other Marines at the ECPs.

“All of our Marines [from H&S Company] have received training at RCAX [Revised Combined Arms Exercise] or SASO [Stability and Support Operations] or both,” said 1st Sgt. Richard D. Thresher, company first sergeant, II MHG. “They are well prepared both physically and mentally.”

Before the Marines are sent outside of camp, they are given classes on rules of engagement and female searching procedures.

"I think the RCAX, SASO and home station pre-deployment training helped,” said Corrado. “I believe the classes on cultural awareness and local customs helped the command and our female Marines understand the importance of female searchers at the ECPs.”

The female searchers treat every woman with respect, yet always as a potential insurgent.

“I take my job seriously because there are a lot of women that act suspicious,” said Phim, a Providence, R.I. native. “I think we must act professionally and as Marines so the women aren’t afraid, but so they know we mean business.”

The headquarters group staff members plan on making casual visits to check points during the month to get a feel for how the female search team works.

“After seeing the posts [at the various ECPs], I was surprised to see the number of Iraqis [the females] were in contact with,” said Thresher, after the first ECP visit. “I, as the first sergeant, was no more concerned with their safety than any other Marine. They were in good spirits, alert, and willing to do whatever was asked of them.”

The Marines in H&S Company stand behind their female service members.

“We are proud of them,” said Thresher. “It was a gut check to know they were “combat replacements” and after seeing all the coverage that the last incident received. The female Marines showed courage and have handled this like professionals. I tell them ‘Keep your head down and wear your gear’!”

Corrado believes the actions of female Marines and Sailors define honor, courage, and commitment.

“They should be extremely proud of themselves,” said Corrado. “Not only have they answered the call of their country by deploying to Iraq, they answered the call from fellow Marines when they needed them most. They heard the news, witnessed their fallen brother and sister Marines [and Sailor], knew the sacrifices they and many of those who have gone before them have made, and stepped up, rose to the occasion and accomplished the mission. They have set the bar with their sense of duty for generations to come. I am proud to serve with them.”


07-24-05, 10:19 AM
Women understand risks
July 24,2005

By diane Mouskourie

Inside an Afghan village, her unit was conducting random searches for Taliban fighters and weapons caches - then they heard what sounded like a cell phone.

That didn't sound right to Marine Sgt. Christine Griego.

"It's a poor country, and, if someone has a cell phone, it means they're doing something they probably shouldn't be," said Griego, an aviations mechanic with Marine Aircraft Group 26, 2nd Marine Air Wing.

That was the first deployment for Griego, 22, who's stationed currently at New River Air Station. The Afghan people had become accustomed to Army and Marine troops conducting searches, she said, so some women would try to hide things under their robes and veils.

"Because of the culture and customs of the country, males are not allowed to talk to or look at the women," she said. "It's not uncommon for female Marines and corpsmen to search the women."

Because of that, Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment requested the help of a female Marine.

Griego volunteered.

The thought of women serving in combat - on the front lines, no less - is unsettling to some. Earlier this year, congressional representatives sought to repeal some of the jobs made available to women only within the last few years. The debate flared again following an attack in Iraq late last month on a convoy of female troops. A 21-year-old Camp Lejeune Marine, Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette, was killed.

It's a distasteful debate to many of the female Marines serving today. Women, they say, are trained just as thoroughly as men are. Women, they say, understand the risks and knew them when they decided to sign up.

Is training enough?

"I went on a convoy â?¦ and was walking around with the squadron, carrying my M-16," Griego said. "I did exactly the same things they did. When we encountered females, I searched them to make sure they didn't have anything and kept them moving."

At times, Griego said, she was scared. But she was confident she had the training needed to do the job.

On this particular search, there were two women who looked suspicious to Griego. Searchers cannot hold a weapon while they work because it might go off by accident - or worse, the enemy might get a hold of it.

"One woman had an infant (in one arm) and a bundle of something in another," Greigo said. "She had her arms under her burka which was unusual."

Reciting phrases from the Poshtun language, Griego asked the woman to raise her arms.

The woman didn't move.

"So I lifted her arms and saw the muzzle of an AK-47 begin to slip out," she said. "I slapped the gun down."

All the while, the Marine next to her kept his gun aimed at the Afghan woman. But when Griego slapped the gun down, the woman tried to run, she said.

Griego used her martial arts training to tackle her. The team found not only the gun, but several AK-47 magazines.

"All I wanted to do was get the woman on the ground and cuffed," Griego said.

"Every man who I work with has received the same training. "We all have the same capabilities because of the training."

But some would say training is not enough.

Sharp divide

In May, House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and House Personnel Subcommittee Chairman John McHugh, R-N.Y., pushed a provision that would have barred all female troops in forward deployed support units from moving to the front lines during combat. Language in the 2006 defense authorization bill would prohibit assigning women to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.

McHugh's amendment would have left the door open for other restrictions, particularly if the mission involves long-range reconnaissance or Special Operations Forces. But the issue quickly generated partisan turmoil. Army leaders and two associations representing retired Army and National Guard members fought against its passage.

The proposed legislation was shot down. Had it passed, the amendment would have closed nearly 22,000 positions currently available to female service members in heavy and infantry brigade combat, according to an article published on GovExec.com.

Army officials argued that the modern battlefield isn't clearly defined, and locking out female troops, they said, would have caused confusion among the ranks.

'I'd fight to the death'

Some women who serve every day alongside their male counterparts in the Marine Corps say they want to be regarded as Marines first, women second.

Capt. Jennifer Schrantz, a CH-46 helicopter pilot, joined the Marines during her last year of college. She was 21.

"My dad is pretty traditional and believes women have a certain place, so he wasn't real happy about my decision," Schrantz said. "The Marine Corps offered me a guaranteed flight contract, and I took it."

Shrantz said she went through the same rigorous training as the other pilots. In her class, the men outnumbered the women 20 to 1.

Corpswide, there are nearly 9,700 female Marines enlisted today compared to almost 150,000 males. Male officers outnumber the females roughly 18,000 to 1,100, said a spokeswoman at New River Air Station.

Schrantz, 27, deployed to Afghanistan at the same time Griego did. They're in the same squadron.

While in Afghanistan, Shrantz conducted helicopter medevacs. She'd fly from Kandahar Air Base, where she was based, to Tarin Kowt to pick up anyone who had been injured. It could be something as small as a bee sting. It could be life or death, she said.

"It gives you a really good feeling to know that you're helping save someone's life," she said. "I could never have had that feeling anywhere else, and I'm glad I had the opportunity."

Women were not allowed to fly in the military until 1991, when the restrictions against women flying combat aircraft were repealed.

During pilot training, Shrantz said, she saw many people - men and women - who simply broke down. They couldn't cut it.

"It's hard in the beginning, but a lot of guys wash out, too," she said. "At least 18 percent don't make it. Females get a lot of attention when they don't make it, but you don't see the same for the males."

Schrantz does not believe women should be limited in what they can or cannot do so far as their jobs are concerned. If that means going into combat, so be it.

Other women Marines tend to agree.

"I earned my title as a Marine the same way the men did," Lance Cpl. Tiffannee Girard said. "I'd fight to the death if I had to."

Girard, 20, is trained as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. She will head to Iraq for the first time in August.

"I joined the Marine Corps during wartime, and I knew I would be going out at some point," she said.

Girard, from Chicago, said she always knew she wanted to join the military. But it wasn't until high school, when an Army recruiter challenged her to do push-ups, that she knew which branch she would join.

"When I did twice as many push-ups as he did, I knew it would be the Marines," she said.

Other women have stronger feelings about women's role in the Marine Corps.

Cpl. Rachel Pasco serves in the same unit as Schrantz and Griego. She trained as an aviation mechanic.

"As far as what I'm expected to do, there is a billet description that everyone must follow," Pasco said.

Pasco, too, was based at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan. She joined the Marines two years after 9/11.

"Women have come a long way in our country's history," she said. "People are always going to remember what women were allowed to do and what they were not allowed to do, something we won't ever be able to escape."

If a woman chooses to make a career out of the military, she should be able to choose the job she wants and is capable of doing, Pasco said.

'Men are stronger'

In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. At that time, women were limited to filling 2 percent of the entire military. Today, it's 15 percent.

While restrictions for women flying combat aircraft were repealed in 1991, the 1948 law still banned women from serving on combat vessels. Then in 1994, the Defense Department opened previously closed billets in aviation, including attack helicopters, to women.

The official policy of the Army and Marine Corps still excludes women from filling combat and infantry billets

The largest single deployment of American military women occurred in 1991 during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. More than 41,000 women deployed.

Five died. Two were captured as prisoners of war.

Kathy Hoxie, a veteran Marine and civilian air traffic controller based at New River Air Station, was among the 41,000 women who served in the first Gulf War. She was an air traffic controller in the Marine Corps from 1986 until 1997.

Hoxie has mixed feelings about women serving in combat. As a rule, there are certain jobs that women simply shouldn't do - some of the ground combat jobs, she said.

"On the same note, I do believe that there are some women out there who would be better at those jobs then some of the men," Hoxie said. "I don't think it's because of a lack of desire but the mere fact that there are physical differences that will never change.

"Typically, men are physically stronger."

"Women have the heart, the desire, the knowledge and the smarts to do the job, but I think the physical aspect is tough to overcome sometimes," Hoxie said. "Mentally and strategically, I think a woman might be better in the job if the genetic strength was there."

In the Persian Gulf, Hoxie said, she did exactly what the men did.

"I was initially sent over with a combat replacement company filled with many infantry Marines who had never worked with a woman before," she said. "I was one of two women in my company and one of the senior Marines. I did not know tactics because I had never been taught that, but I did have the smarts to learn quickly and step up to the plate."

Her experience has given her greater respect for what the men and women are accomplishing in Iraq today.

"We trained in the field, ate, slept, showered, and bonded (in the same environment)," Hoxie said. "Little concessions were made, but it was a huge issue for any of us, meaning both men and women."

Contact staff writer Diane Mouskourie at dmouskourie@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, Ext. 235.


07-25-05, 10:37 AM
Wounded Marine appreciates support
Managing Editor

LEOPOLD - The Perry County Marine wounded in a car-bomb explosion in Iraq last month is recovering at home in Leopold and is grateful for the support she's felt from the Perry County community.

"I really appreciate what they've done for me," Cpl. Sally J. Saalman said Thursday. "Every little prayer, every get-well card; it has been great. I don't even know half of them. I do appreciate the Perry County people taking care of me."

While she said she's limited in what she can discuss with the media, Saalman explained her recovery is going well. She sustained second-degree burns on her back, third-degree burns on her hands and other minor injuries when she was thrown by the force of the explosion from a truck she and other Marines were riding in. The June 23 attack killed two Marines immediately and three others died of their injuries later.

"The doctoring in Texas was very good," she said of treatment she received at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. "They took very good care of me."

She's still on pain medication, she said, and wasn't sure how much longer she'd be on convalescent leave, but was upbeat as she spoke to The News by phone.

The 2002 Perry Central Community School graduate said while she's learned a lot since joining the Marines, "I'm pretty much the same person I was when I left." She still has "a year and some change" on her current enlistment, she said, and hasn't yet decided whether she'll re-enlist.


07-27-05, 11:10 AM
Bittersweet observance for Angelica
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

DUMONT PROCLAIMED yesterday Angelica Jimenez Day, celebrating her birthday, but without her.

Like any young person who reaches that milestone, she will never forget the day she turned 21.

But she'll remember it for the pain of her slow recovery as much as for the joy of recognition from the town where she was raised. And she'll also remember it because of a visit from her sisters Claudia and Veronica.

Marine Lance Cpl. Angelica Jimenez - or Angie, as her family called her as she was growing up in Dumont - is in a Texas military hospital, one of hundreds of women wounded in Iraq.

Angie's face is the face of courage. It's also the face of controversy.

Women were not supposed to be close to combat, but the rules that were made for orderly warfare with definable front lines and proper rules of engagement don't apply in the war on terror.

Angie Jimenez was one of 40,000 women deployed in Iraq.

Claudia Jimenez, 33, says at first her sister, Angie, knew only a few details about the blast, the survivors' injuries, or the dead.

"She's lost a couple of her friends," Claudia said. Angie was in critical condition, and her family wanted her to keep her spirits up and concentrate on getting better. They didn't want to tell her everything, especially not the bad news that the blast killed her friend Ramona Valdez from the Bronx, who served alongside her.

"It took a week after it was in the paper, then she found out," her sister said.

About 40 American women have died and hundreds more have been wounded in Iraq. U.S. casualties total roughly 1,780.

Because of strict gender codes in the Muslim world, Iraqi women need to be shielded from physical contact with American soldiers. They also need to be searched to protect troops from being victims of suicide bombers - men disguised as women or Iraqi women carrying explosives under their prodigious layers of garments.

Angie had been assigned to pat down Iraqi women at security checkpoints.

Returning from her duty station, Angie Jimenez was one of 11 women injured when a suicide bomber in a sedan slammed into the seven-ton truck transporting U.S. personnel back to their base. Among the five Marines killed were three women. One of them was Valdez.

Born a month apart, both joined the Marines right out of high school and met in the Marines.

The blast killed Ramona within days of her 21st birthday last month; Angie celebrated hers yesterday.

Women like Angie and Ramona have reopened the debate about women in combat.

As gender barriers were lowered to integrate more women into the military, they were not supposed to be in combat. But many heroic women are close enough to call it combat. There will be many more Angelicas before the war is over.

The U.S. Army has come a long way since the years when women's roles were mostly medical and clerical. The women-only branches of the service were abolished in 1973.

Women should not be forced into situations so close to combat. Many end up in combat situations because their support services are integral to combat units.

Now, in the heat of battle, is not the time to radically redefine the role of women on active duty. Making any major changes may exacerbate already confused deployment issues among the 140,000 uniformed American troops in Iraq.

A ban proposed last spring in the House Armed Services Committee would have indeed removed women from harm's way in combat situations, but it would also have shut nearly 22,000 women out of positions.

Attempts to narrowly restrict the women's role by keeping them away from light vehicles, infantry and other front-line occupations were defeated.

But they need to take the next step and fully explore whether Americans want to position their mothers, young daughters and sisters so close to the action.

Record Columnist Lawrence Aaron can be contacted at aaron@northjersey.com. Send comments about this column to oped@northjersey.com.