Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Review – Ashley’s War – Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

ashleys-warAshley’s War
Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ½

In 2010, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command created Cultural Support Teams, a pilot program to put women on the battlefield alongside Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women could access places and people that had remained out of reach, and could build relationships—woman to woman—in ways that male soldiers in a conservative, traditional country could not. Though officially banned from combat, female soldiers could be “attached” to different teams, and for the first time, women throughout the Army heard the call to try out for this special ops program.

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of discussion about the opening of combat roles in the military to women. Discussions about should women be allowed in these traditional male roles? can they carry the same weight? various services have conducted different studies to see how women perform in these training pipelines – but few people know that women have been in combat roles for several years – serving alongside men in the special operations, including Army Delta forces. In fact, while I had heard of these women in passing, I knew next to nothing about these ground breaking women, so when I came across Ashley’s War in the library, it seemed like a good choice for something to read.

ashleyAt its heart, Ashley’s War is a fairly simple read, but the depth of emotion held within resulted in me crying and nearly crying several times throughout. Its a story of sisterhood; or pushing yourself beyond what you believe capable; or providing evidence that women do have a place in direct combat roles. What started out as a “social experiment” as many anti-women in combat folks like to say, soon emerged as a way for the US to tackle the empty cavern that was the female half of population in the villages, soldier’s often ended up in their pursuit of Taliban. The women of the Combat Support Teams (or CST’s) aided in identifying members of Taliban hiding in the general population because they were able to talk to female members of the population, who previously were not included in interrogations. There wasn’t anything special about these women – they were daughters, wives, and sisters; Academy graduates and ROTC, regular Army and National Guard – but each of them were special in their own way. Each of them were trail blazers for the women in the military today and the into the future.

memorial1-jpegBy the end of the book I was a blubbering mess – even though going into it, I knew what was going to happen to the title solider (thank you huge spoilers in the description!). But reading how she died and how the unit that she was supporting did their best to save her and the others that were injured in the IED detonation; the reading of the recollections of the other members of the CST who had trained with Ashley when they realized she had been killed…I think I’m almost glad that I was reading this book and not listening to the audiobook like I had originally intended.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to learn about what our Combat Support Teams did in Afghanistan; and anyone who wants to see what the role of women in combat can truly be.

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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Book Review, Review


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Review – Fifteen Days – Christie Blatchford

Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army
Author: Christie Blatchford

Narrated By: Matilda Novak
Run Time: 13 hours, 32 minutes

Book Description:
Long before she made her first trip to Afghanistan as an embedded reporter for The Globe and Mail, Christie Blatchford was already one of Canada’s most respected and eagerly read journalists. Her vivid prose, her unmistakable voice, her ability to connect emotionally with her subjects and readers, her hard-won and hard-nosed skills as a reporter–these had already established her as a household name. But with her many reports from Afghanistan, and in dozens of interviews with the returned members of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and others back at home, she found the subject she was born to tackle. Her reporting of the conflict and her deeply empathetic observations of the men and women who wear the maple leaf are words for the ages, fit to stand alongside the nation’s best writing on war.

It is a testament to Christie Blatchford’s skills and integrity that along with the admiration of her readers, she won the respect and trust of the soldiers. They share breathtakingly honest accounts of their desire to serve, their willingness to confront fear and danger in the battlefield, their loyalty towards each other and the heartbreak occasioned by the loss of one of their own. Grounded in insights gained over the course of three trips to Afghanistan in 2006, and drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews not only with the servicemen and -women with whom she shared so much, but with their commanders and family members as well, Christie Blatchford creates a detailed, complex and deeply affecting picture of military life in the twenty-first century.

Book Review:
Normally, I am really bad about getting my audiobook reviews done as soon as I finish a book, because I have so many other things going on, but this book affected me on such an emotional level that I needed to write about it. While listening to Fifteen Days, on my commute to and from work for the past week, I literally spent every day in tears driving, I felt like I was so emotionally connected to the writing in the book.

I think that one of the reasons I was so emotionally invested in the book, is that I did a deployment to Iraq and many of the methods used by the Taliban in Afghanistan that resulted in Canadian casualties – I also saw in Iraq. One of which was the use of IED’s…so when they talked about stuff like that in the book – I could visualize the damage that they did to vehicles, the same with the damage inflicted by suicide bombers and other methods. If I had known how emotionally involved I was going to be in this book, I honestly don’t know if I would have picked it up. If nothing else, it did make me realize that while I have been back in the US for over 3 years now, what you face over there never truely leaves your mind – you might think that you can pick up and go on, but its not that easy.

But not only did the author spend time with the soliders, she also talked to their families. Interspersed through-out the book were recollections from the spouses and parents of the soldiers killed – what they were doing on the day that the Officer and the Padre came to visit them to tell them the news. How they had to go and tell their children – some of them hours away at military school, some only toddlers – the experiences ran the gammit. Ironcially, the last chapter of the book, where the various soldiers are travelling to memorial ceremonies all over Canada was actually the least emotional for me – I honestly feel that by the time I got to that point, I was so emotionally exhausted and drained that I couldn’t be upset anymore.

One of the good things about listening to a non-fiction book is that the narrator doesn’t have to try and use the multitude of different voices as they would in a fiction book. That being said, Matila Novak’s narration blew me away. She sounded like she was so connected with the writing, that everything just flowed. I did appreciate the places where she used specific voices (when there were quotes of British soldiers vice the normal Canadians) and a few other places. I will definately be seeking out her narrations again in the future and would like to see how she handles a fiction narration.

I highly recommend this book if anyone is curious about reading what not only our troops, but those of other countries have gone through in Afghanistan, and also, in Iraq. One thing I would caution readers is that the author didn’t take a typical chronological approach in the book, and the fifteen days highlighted actually jump back and forth. In the preface she explains why she did this and to me, the jumble, made it all seem more realistic – there are certain days on any deployment that stand out more than others, and her method of writing highlighted this. But at the same time, if the reader chooses to do it chronologically, they easily could, because each chapter starts with the dates. 5 stars for me on an emotional level and for this book, that is what counts the most.


Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Book Review


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