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

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

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0062333828

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In 2010, the Army created Cultural Support Teams, a secret pilot program to insert women alongside Special Operations soldiers battling in Afghanistan. The Army reasoned that women could play a unique role on Special Ops teams: accompanying their male colleagues on raids and, while those soldiers were searching for insurgents, questioning the mothers, sisters, daughters and wives living at the compound. Their presence had a calming effect on enemy households, but more importantly, the CSTs were able to search adult women for weapons and gather crucial intelligence. They could build relationships—woman to woman—in ways that male soldiers in an Islamic country never could.

In Ashley's War, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uses on-the-ground 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 the Army to serve in this highly specialized and challenging role. The pioneers of CST-2 proved for the first time, at least to some grizzled Special Operations soldiers, that women might be physically and mentally tough enough to become one of them.

The price of this professional acceptance came in personal loss and social isolation: the only people who really understand the women of CST-2 are each other. At the center of this story is a friendship cemented by "Glee," video games, and the shared perils and seductive powers of up-close combat. At the heart of the team is the tale of a beloved and effective soldier, Ashley White.

Much as she did in her bestselling The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Lemmon transports readers to a world they previously had no idea existed: a community of women called to fulfill the military's mission to "win hearts and minds" and bound together by danger, valor, and determination. Ashley's War is a gripping combat narrative and a moving story of friendship—a book that will change the way readers think about war and the meaning of service.


















and colleagues. My assistant, Christy Morales, kept me on track and our research organized. Melissa Stack lent a spare office and Robin Wood Sailer and Tara Luizzi their spare rooms. Marketing mind Chris Villareal shared his wisdom and his creative talent, as did Gina Bianchini. Laurye Blackford helped to map out the book’s launch from the start and offered invaluable advice and perspective all along the way. Willow Bay offered the very first set of notes for this book and the story was far

way. “I have to do this,” Ashley said. “People at the Guard unit are making fun of me—you know I have to get this deployment out of the way. My regular unit won’t be deploying for Kuwait until 2013, and that will be a whole year of us apart. If I do this CST program, it’s just six or seven months, and it’s now. We can begin a family all the sooner.” Jason listened, stone-faced. “Listen, Jason, this is special operations,” Ashley said. “You’re the one who said they’re the best of all the guys

stepped into their office—a broom closet, actually—and exhaled for the first time. “Whew,” White allowed. “That shit is serious,” Mason said. “This is the real deal.” Then, without another word, they began a systems check, testing the frequency of their radios to make sure they operated properly. This would be their lifeline while on mission. They triple-checked their night-vision goggles, which clipped onto the top of their helmets, and made sure they had batteries for all the electronics

front, just as she had been from the first day of ROTC training. She relished the silence and the clop-clop of her Gore-Tex boots as her feet hit the ground. All around her the North Carolina fir trees stood tall, lush, and green, stretching their limbs toward the sky. They reminded her of the state park where she ran races with Josh and Brittany as kids. Her every sense was tuned in to the moment and remained there. She heard the flapping wings of birds flying above against the steady,

parents would pass the phone back and forth, sitting in their comfy loungers facing the television in the ranch house in Marlboro. The conversations always began with Ashley peppering her parents with questions about everything and everyone in their hometown, and thanking her mom for the delicious cookies and for all the coffee and bread mixes. But whenever Bob or Debbie asked her about her work she swiftly changed the subject. As they understood it, she was part of some special team and she

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