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

From the author of the New York Times best seller The Dressmaker of Khair Khana comes the poignant and gripping story of a groundbreaking team of female American warriors who served alongside Special Operations soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan - including Ashley White, a beloved soldier who died serving her country's cause.

In 2010 the US 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.

In Ashley's War, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uses exhaustive firsthand reporting and a finely tuned understanding of the complexities of war to tell the story of CST-2, a unit of women hand-picked from across the army, and the remarkable hero at its heart: 1st Lt. Ashley White, who would become the first Cultural Support Team member killed in action and the first CST remembered on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the Army Rangers with whom she served.

Transporting readers into this little-known world of fierce women bound together by valor, danger, and the desire to serve, Ashley's War is a riveting combat narrative and a testament to the unbreakable bonds born of war.


I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this story, and found this book to be fascinating, as I had never heard of the CST program prior to listening to this book. While Ashley White's story was the centerpiece of the book, I liked how the author weaved together several of the women's stories to provide a much more holistic view of the CST program and its participants. These women are inspirational. They came from all across the United States, all with a single-minded goal: to serve their country in the most meaningful way possible. 

Prior to this program, positions on the front lines had been largely closed to women, despite the fact that women have proven both their ability and willingness to serve in the most dangerous environs of war. These women, carefully selected, were in essence pioneers, tasked with proving themselves in a male dominated field resistant to change. They not only had to prove themselves in the moment, but set a prescient that would impact the lives and careers of generations of female soldiers to come. They pushed themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally to serve at the highest standard they could achieve.

Yet, they were human. It could have been really easy to portray these women as "other," something beyond what anyone could hope to achieve, but I think the author did a good job humanizing them. She wrote about their flaws, challenges, hopes, and dreams. She made them unique and ordinary at the same time. This made their characters relatable and I found myself draw in by their stories because I could relate to them and their experiences as women on a personal level.

You don't have to be overly interested in military stuff to get hooked by this book, as the focus is less on that and more on telling the stories of these incredible women. In my opinion, this book is well worth a read (or listen!). 

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