Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Book Rave: Ashley’s War

November 9th, 2015

Full title: Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield

Ashleys War by Gayle Tzemach LemmonAshley’s War, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is a nonfiction account of the first wave of women in the US Army who volunteered to be part of the “cultural support teams” that accompanied Army Rangers and Green Berets on missions in Afghanistan.

These teams were developed beginning in 2011 because it was felt that women soldiers could interact more effectively with Afghan women, most of whom are forbidden from interacting with men who are not immediate relatives. The program proved successful. Women soldiers came to be seen as a “third gender,” one whose presence didn’t threaten the social status of Afghan men.

But Ashley’s War isn’t about Afghan culture or the politics of war. Instead it’s firmly focused on the stories of the American soldiers who volunteered for this program, and who survived the brief but rigorous training. These women came from diverse backgrounds. Some were regular army, some were National Guard. Some were on their own from a very young age, some came from strong families. Some were from families with traditional military backgrounds, and some were from civilian families. All were athletic and determined, and most joined the military because they wanted to be soldiers, and to experience combat.

As the story develops, it’s fascinating to see these women coming to terms with what it means to be a “strong woman character,” as we so frequently discuss in fiction:

“Kate wondered how it had come to be that all of them equated the idea of toughness with the male version of the trait when Ashley was clearly plenty decisive when it came time to act. Here was someone who was athletic to the extreme and good at what she did. But they were so used to seeing competence accompanied by shows of masculinity and aggression that they worried whether their teammate would succeed in the theater of war. We’ve all bought into it, Kate thought. Ashley seems so comfortable in her own skin. And we are all razzing her for it.”

AND

“During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military females who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here […] were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing — and inspiring.”

They are also very aware that if they screw up, all women will be judged by their failure:

“…the CSTs were, whether they liked it or not, a group of trailblazers who had better not mess things up for those who would come after them.”

AND

[They] “were waging and often winning the battle to belong: letting their work speak for itself, acknowledging that they weren’t Rangers but wanted to make a difference out there […] It was a fight every CST knew would be won slowly — and could be lost in an instant.”

And then there is the powerful bond that forms between these women as they train and work together:

“They had forged a bond based on friendship and respect, cemented by the fact that they had never before known people like themselves. Women found them weird for wanting to go to war. Men found them threatening. For a long time Cassie thought this was a reality she alone had experienced, but then she got to know her new teammates.”

It’s a fascinating story, and given the current, looming deadline to lift all gender restrictions on women in the US military, it’s a timely read.

Highly recommended.

Posted on: Monday, November 9th, 2015 at 4:02 pm
Categories: Book Rave, Reading.
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