Five soldiers grab their ponytails, quickly twist them into a bun and stuff them inside of their helmets. These women are getting ready for another day of battle in Iraq. How did these women, who were support solders serving as mechanics, supply clerks and engineers, end up fighting Iraqi insurgents with very little training and a policy that prevents them from doing so?
“Lioness”, a film by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, captures the untold reality of what five women experienced physically, psychologically and spiritually as the first group of women sent into direct ground combat. Busboys and Poets, located in the U Street Corridor, recently hosted a free preview of the documentary. “Lioness” will also air on WHUT-TV, Channel 32, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, and on WETA-TV, Channel 26, at 12:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 24. In the film, Shannon Morgan recalled a near-death encounter with an Iraqi insurgent. “I remember hesitating and thinking, ‘God, is what I’m doing right?’ ” she said. “Then I thought the man shooting doesn’t care, because he’s shooting at me.” Morgan was one of the women featured in “Lioness” fighting alongside the Marines in Iraq. The best shooter in her platoon, Morgan joined the Army to escape the small town life that her home in Arkansas had to offer. Now she is trying to escape the psychological aftermath of her service to the Army. Her father, a Vietnam Veteran, told Morgan the people who died in battle are the lucky ones. She agreed. “They don’t have to remember,” Morgan said. In the film, Morgan joined fellow female combat soldiers for a reunion. As they watched a History Channel documentary about the same Iraqi battle they fought, not one woman was seen among the American soldiers fighting. “Women are coming home to a society that has no idea what they are doing over there,” Morgan explained. Of the 24 million veterans, 1.8 million are women. As the fastest-growing veteran population, recently discharged women soldiers feel they aren’t getting the same appreciation and acknowledgment as their male counterparts. The concept of ignoring women’s contribution to combat was carried into a panel discussion that was held after the film preview. “This documentary is an untold story of a woman’s patriotic duty and pride,” Maj. Gen. Irene Trowell-Harris said. After 38 years of service in the U.S. Air Force National Guard, Trowell-Harris now serves as the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women.
Joining Trowell-Harris on the panel was Amy Baxter. A veteran who provided security for convoys in Iraq by using a gun truck, Baxter said she saw similarities with her own experiences in Iraq. “The documentary was a pretty accurate view of what some people went through,” she said. “It was pretty hard to watch.” Baxter, who is a Ph.D. student studying social psychology, said she would never forget her interaction with the local children of Iraq. “When you are on convoys they run up to your truck,” the veteran said. “They obviously want you to give them something like candy. They act really happy to see you, as if it was a parade, but then you see their parents. They’re standing back by their houses, just looking at you like, ‘We’re going to let our kids run out, but just so you know – we don’t support you at all.’ “