Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Review:

Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield - Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

I first heard about this amazing story from TED. I absolutely love that site and all the women they have brought into my view. The author of this book does a talk about it and the women that are mentioned within it. I listened to the audiobook version, read by Kathe Mazur.

I’d normally prefer to include the synopsis in a review, but the talk really does a better job than anything else to set up a good expectation about what’s in the book, so let me begin with that (warning that this talk does include spoilers):

Of course, I know how much I hate to stop and watch a video, so I get it if you’d rather have a synopsis. Fortunately, the story is about exactly what the title states. There were actual women deploying with Special Ops forces in combat zones well before the repeal of the combat exclusion law in 2013. The Army specifically worded everything so that the fact that this team was full of women going into combat was not immediately evident and there was little risk of anyone figuring it out that they didn’t want to know.

They recognized that they needed women in those combat zones and helping those troops in that capacity and couldn’t afford to wait for the country to catch up in our backward thinking about women’s abilities in combat and therefore for Congress to allow it to fully happen. They took advantage of every loophole to accomplish this. According to the book, this story was crucial to the decision to do a full repeal of  the combat exclusion law that kept women from legally being a part of combat missions up to this point.

Personally, I found the story incredibly heartening. While there was resistance, it wasn’t in the manner that I’ve heard so many horror stories of when it comes to women integrating into other jobs of both the military and civilian workforse. The men these women worked with understood that this was a necessary thing and where the women fit into it, even when they didn’t like it. Even when they weren’t sure whether or not this was the step that was going to work.

As I said, I had listened to the TEDtalk, so I had some spoilers and I almost feel like they were necessary but they did break my heart in some parts of the story. I can’t possibly express my gratitude that everything was done right by those involved, or at least it sounded like it in this book.

While the story centers around Ashley White, there is a good deal of backstory for many of the other women in her sphere as well as those of her family. Her fiance is amazing and deserves much more credit than it appears he was given by people he came across. There is a small but growing group of men who are married to women in the military and who support their dream of whatever they  want to do without feeling emasculated by it. These are guys who realize that a BA woman and her accomplishments doesn’t actually emasculate them, it would be their own insecure feelings that would do that. These men aren’t insecure about their own abilities just because their women are doing great things that are normally done by other men. I’ve never understood it.

I hope the world will be filled with more men who have his reactions to these sorts of things. I’m sure he isn’t perfect in every way, but I appreciate the way he supported her, the way he understood what she needed to do for her and the adjustments he made in his life to allow for that no matter how worried he was about it. I also appreciated the inclusion of so much of his story by the author so that people can see that it’s hard to be the one who stays and worries but that men are still capable of doing it, just as endless generations of women had done.

The other women mentioned in the book that were in the program are also amazing, though I understand why the story focuses on Ashley White. I understand what made her story unique. All the women who participated in the CST program may not have intended to make history, but they left us a legacy as women who enabled others to continue pioneering the way after them. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were the women putting in for Special Operations now that it has becoming more open to us. It’s stories like these that make me feel like people are rarely trying to make history or simply prove a point when they do just that. These women didn’t want a handout or special dispensation. They wanted the equal opportunity to serve in the way that men get to serve. They didn’t want something as inescapable as gender to hold back all of the potential in their bodies. It’s a ridiculous basis to keep women out of the fight for, and in case anyone wasn’t sure, these women proved it.

And yes, there is still a long way to go and more women are traversing that distance. I’m sure that it will improve as more women prove they can do it and as more girls see it done and learn how to prepare for it as early in their lives as I’ve known men to prepare. I know all the arguments of the naysayers, but lots of men fall out of these programs. They are known for their attrition rates. Even if they never reach parity, the opportunity for women to try costs relatively nothing compared to the gains that are made obvious in this book. It’s also bigger than just being able to talk to women in more segregated cultures but simply not leaving out half the population on a technicality is bound to improve overall ability.

This was an eye-opening book into the world of special forces and the women who led the way in making it legal for any of us to serve in that capacity. I listened to the audiobook from my local library, but you can click on the cover picture for options on where to purchase it.

This was my Read Harder Task #14: Read a book about war.

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