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Face of Defense: Marine Serves as Gunner, ‘Lioness’ in Iraq

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Melissa Latty
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq, May 1, 2009 – Cpl. Susy H. Aguilar was a city girl from coastal California when she shocked her family and friends in 2005 to become the first in her family to join the Marine Corps.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Cpl. Susy H. Aguilar sights in and prepares her .50-caliber machine gun for a test fire at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, April 21, 2009. Aguilar extended her contract with the Marine Corps to deploy as a machine gunner. She serves with Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Melissa A. Latty
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But joining the Marines was only the first step in many that would surprise and impress those around her.

Aguilar started her military career as a supply clerk at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. Shortly thereafter, she deployed to Iraq in 2006.

During her deployment, Aguilar stepped out of the warehouse and into the ranks of an infantry unit to serve as a “lioness,” the name given to female servicemembers who search Iraqi women. The program was created to ease cultural sensitivities over interaction between coalition forces and Iraqi women.

Aguilar said she jumped at the chance to serve with the otherwise all-male infantry unit, and that her experiences with the “grunts” have had a profound impact on her.

“There was a time when we were out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere,” she said, recalling her first combat experience. “I was already scared as it was, and then we started to get mortared.

“There was a little [Iraqi] boy who I had been interacting with,” she continued. “He was really scared, and wouldn’t leave my side. One of the grunts came back, gave me his flak jacket and told me to put it on the boy. He had no problem giving up his flak and risking his own safety. That is when I decided I wanted to do a more combat-related [job]. I wanted to be more like them.”

Before her next deployment to Iraq, Aguilar volunteered to go through the machine gunner’s course, even though she doubted that she, as a woman, would be called upon to put the skills to use. She already had extended her enlistment contract in hopes of experiencing the deployment from the turret of an armored vehicle.

“I was really shocked when my name was called and I had been chosen,” she said.

Aguilar was then assigned to Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and deployed for her second tour to Iraq in February. She not only was new to the company, but also had to establish her capabilities in the eyes of her male counterparts.

“I wasn’t nervous, but I knew I had to prove myself to them when I was taking apart the gun, cleaning it, or doing a test fire,” she said. “I always felt like they were watching me to see if I knew what I was doing.” However, it didn’t take long for the platoon to realize that Aguilar had what it took to be a gunner and could be counted upon to provide fire support if necessary.

Aside from her role as a gunner, Aguilar ensures the trucks are ready to go before a convoy, and makes sure the right personnel are on manifest documents.

“Of all of my corporals, Aguilar is definitely one of the best,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Andy Smith, Aguilar’s platoon commander. “She does her job and a lot more. She does a lot around the motor pool. She shows up to the convoys an hour early just to make sure everything’s ready so we can roll out.”

Aguilar said she has worked hard to gain the respect of her fellow Marines, and that she thinks highly of her platoon mates.

“We have the best drivers, the best assistant drivers and the best mechanics,” Aguilar said. “Everyone is good at what they do, and there is a lot of trust in our platoon. It’s awesome just knowing that they trust me on the gun to protect them and knowing that they can protect me if I need them to.”

Aguilar said she encourages more female Marines to step up and do the jobs that women don’t often do.

“I have grown a lot both as a Marine and as a person,” she said. “Even through the bad times, I have never regretted my decision to become a gunner.”

(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Melissa Latty serves with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group’s public affairs office.)

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