AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Jess Girouard deployed here for Operation Iraqi Freedom nearly three months ago from her home station at Camp Lejeune, N.C. As an ‘admin’ clerk, she spends a lot of time behind a computer screen or shuffling paperwork. But as a female Marine in Iraq, she has become an unexpected asset to the II Marine Expeditionary Forces (Forward).
The Gardner, Mass., native, recently returned from a successful month-long stint in Fallujah, just west of Baghdad. There, she was part of the search team at the gates and at various entry control points (ECP) to search Iraqi women who lined up to enter the city.
On an average morning, she would twist her long, black hair into a bun and fit it neatly under her Kevlar helmet. Her protective goggles shielded her eyes from the blast of sand that whips across the desert and her rifle protected her from the dangers she sought to deter.
Since it’s customary for Iraqi men not to look at or touch women other than those in their families, male Marines are forbidden from searching the female Iraqis. It is also customary in Iraq for women to leave their homes completely enshrouded in an aabaya – something like a robe covering them from head to toe. Imaginably, searching them is a difficult task and that’s where Girouard stepped in.
“I searched females and their belongings as they lined up at the gate,” said the 26-year-old Gardner High School graduate and former Mt. Wachusett Community College student. “My team and I found explosives, weapons and large quantities of money – usually an indicator that they’re involved with insurgents.”
Until the Marines swept through Fallujah last year, the city had been a safe haven for the local insurgency and foreign fighters alike. Suicide car bombers are a major threat in her unit’s area of operations. She and her unit maintain a strong presence to provide a sense of security for the citizens who are struggling to recover in the wake of the insurgency.
“It’s great to be a direct part of the real reason we’re here,” said Girouard. “Usually I’m processing data inside a building safe from what’s outside the gate. But outside the wire it’s easy to see, literally, what’s going on and the effect we have on the Iraqis.”
Before she deployed, Girouard attended a college course in the Arabic language. Until now, she wasn’t sure she would be able to use it.
“I actually got to do what I was trained for,” she said. “A lot of the Iraqi women who came through the gate liked to talk. Half of the time I didn’t know what they were saying, but I was able to decipher a little bit. It helped me put them at ease and I saw that they actually did appreciate that.
“Some of the younger women who were English students actually tried showing me their homework,” Girouard added as a light note.
Girouard has no regrets about the time she spent outside the wire.
“I would do it all over again if I could,” said Girouard. “Actually I’m going to try to get back to it when I can. It’s something I’ll never forget.”