"Lioness" is an up-close look at the evolving role of women in the U.S. military -- not just in traditional roles as nurses and support personnel but as weapon-toting frontline troops.
The 82-minute piece, by veteran documentarians Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, deals with five women who found themselves attached to a Marine battalion in the middle of prolonged fighting in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2004. Retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, now of the Women's Research and Education Institute, says they were among the first U.S. women to experience combat on an equal footing with men.
Federal law prohibits assigning women to direct combat, but that distinction has been blurred on the ground in the Iraq war. Among other things, U.S. troops, particularly in the combat-heavy phase of the war, were stretched thin and needed help. Also, there are Islamic cultural prohibitions against men searching Iraqi women or even talking to them.
As a solution, the Army began Operation Lioness, female soldiers assigned to accompany male troops on patrol and at checkpoints, although they had not had infantry training. The combat experience seems to have badly shaken some. Staff Sgt. Ranie Ruthig, a mechanic who never expected to fire a weapon, remembers a late-night mission in which troops forced their way into Iraqi homes to search for weapons and insurgents.