Greer Saunders, 42 

click to enlarge cover46_saunders_100.jpg

Service: Staff sergeant, Marine reservist since 1991

Occupation: Assistant attorney general

The first time I walked around Fallujah, my heart was beating pretty quickly, but then I was also kind of excited about it because I was there. And what's the point of being there if you're just going to be in an office doing PowerPoint? was my thinking.

We felt comfortable enough to get out, walk around, then to give chocolate to the kids. They love that. "Chocolate, mister, mister" -- everybody's a mister. They can't tell if you're a girl or a boy with all the gear on.

We had to go on a foot patrol. During the first part of the patrol, I'm thinking, I was in the band playing clarinet. How'd I get here with a rifle? But it quickly turned from fear to just getting the job done. Right before we were about to come back home, we did another foot patrol, and it was just not a big deal. I remember walking through this black sewage in the middle of the road. I wasn't thinking anything but, Doggone it, I just brushed my boots. I'm walking in Fallujah through feces and thinking: Doggone it, my boots are going to get dirty! It's interesting the transformation that occurs.

One day I was going to be with a team in a very dangerous spot around Ramadi. They put the team chief in another vehicle, and he [the officer] let me take his spot. I cannot overstate how big a decision that was. It would have been so easy for him to say, I'm not taking my team chief out, and I'm not bringing you on, a woman — a woman.

We raided a fire station. There was suspicion that some of the firefighters were bad guys. We went in there to search the area, and I ended up guarding these Iraqi firefighters [gestures as if holding a gun], and they're looking at me and they're talking, and I told them to shut up the best I could in Arabic. I didn't want them talking or planning anything.

I think one of the easiest ways I've found to gain the respect of the male Marines is to keep up with physical training. If you are known to be a hard charger, in shape, never really saying that you can't — I've heard so many times, oh I can't do that — the women who don't at least try to keep up, to do what is required of them.

If you're all training together and say "I can't," there's where you lose the respect. If it's a guy who's a wimp, they say it's because he's a wimp. Now, if a woman is a wimp, then it's all women. We don't have the luxury of being individuals.

I know sexual harassment and sexual assault is a problem, but I've been fortunate enough not to experience that. I'm not blaming women, but I've always been quick to say, "Do not talk to me that way," and it's followed by "I'm sorry." It might be a little different because we were reservists and you don't have a bunch of guys who have just been living with a bunch of guys.

Civil Affairs is supposed to be the link between the military and the people. We were the 6th Civil Affairs Group, and we just came from all walks of life and all over the country. Most of us had not done any civil affairs work before. We had plumbers, we had maintenance guys, we had cops, we had an actor — just really a hodgepodge, you know, motley crew.

The theory was the young men didn't have jobs and so they would get money any way they could. So we did the quick-shot employment kinds of projects that didn't take a lot of training and were really easy to do. We would hire people to remove rubble from the streets. Of course, you could also make money from both [sides] and I think many of them did. A quick buck was to put an IED — improvised explosive device — on a road for somebody and get what they considered a lot of money.

It can be very difficult work. Not to mention the frustration in not having the expertise ourselves. I mean, we're not democracy experts. We're not professors in political science or whatever. We just were trained up before we got there, and we were kind of doing the best we could. But we had that and they're shooting at you sometimes and you don't know each time you go out there — outside the wire — you don't know if you're coming back.

When I came back from Iraq, I thought: This is it — I'm through. Then you think about it and you think, you know, my entire adult life I've been a Marine, so it's kind of hard to walk away from. I just reenlisted knowing that I might have to go back over there.

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