Remembering the First Fallen from All-Female Team

   1st Lt. Ashley White was a member of the all-female Army Cultural Support Team. She was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in October 2011 while supporting a Ranger night mission. Credit Ashley White Family / Memorial Page


1st Lt. Ashley White was a member of the all-female Army Cultural Support Team. She was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in October 2011 while supporting a Ranger night mission.
Credit Ashley White Family / Memorial Page

Among those who will be remembered this Memorial Day is 1st Lt. Ashley White, a member of an all-female, all-Army Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.

White is buried behind her family’s church in Ohio. It’s the same church where she was baptized and where she married Capt. Jason Stumpf six months before she was killed.

The family had the option of burying Ashley at Arlington National Cemetery,

“They wanted to keep her close to home,” said best-selling author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She tells the story of Ashley and her female teammates in her new book: Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield.

“One of the things that always stays for me is the first time I was in Ohio there was a sign in her room written on ripped up notebook paper that said in all block letters ‘YOU ARE MY MOTIVATION’,” Lemmon said. “You realize, it was not this exceptional person’s death that defined her. It was actually her life and the kind of person she was.”

White and two Army Rangers, Sgt. First Class Kris Domeij and Private First Class Christopher Horns, were killed by an improvised explosive device during a night mission in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan October 2011.

One was 29 and on his fourteenth deployment; another was just 20 serving on his first. And one was a National Guard member who answered the call to join a new, all-female, all Army special operations team. – Ashley’s War –

“This story is part of changing the way we see our heroes. And that is really what was so compelling about telling it was it was this team of women who came together and took the call to serve and will be family forever,” Lemmon said.

Ashley's_War_book_coverShe writes that the only comfort Ashley’s teammates could find in her death is that she was treated equally, the same as the two Rangers who died alongside. Just like them, a Ranger coin was placed on her casket before departing Afghanistan and her photo was placed on the wall of Ranger fallen.

“Special Operations commanders here in Tampa said these women may have well laid the foundation for ultimate integration,” Lemmon said. “They were out there every single night on these kinds of combat operations that less than 5 percent of U.S. military sees at the tip of the spear while officially women were banned from combat.”

She added that the White family considers that part of their daughter’s legacy is reminding the country of the courage and valor of this team of women who answered that call to serve.

You can read an excerpt from Ashley’s War here.

Author Lemmon also wrote the New York Times best-seller, The Dressmaker Of Khair Khana, which tells the story of a young Afghan entrepreneur whose business created jobs and hope for women during the Taliban years. Lemmon was in Tampa recently to speak to the Women in International Security Florida Chapter.

You can listen to the WUSF News story with Lemmon and the NPR interview from April.

Advertisements

A Golden Age and New Leader for U.S. Special Operations

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

The significance of the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, can be measured by the fact that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came to Tampa for the change of command ceremony.

“As a testament to the growing demand for special operators, Socom has grown by almost 8,000 people over the last three years,” Hagel told an invited audience of hundreds, most in military uniform. “And its growth will continue even as other parts of our military draw down.”

Navy Adm. William McRaven led Socom through the last three years of growth shaping the joint command into a global force.

“I believe that for the past several years, possibly without even knowing it, we have been and we are in the Golden Age of Special Operations,” McRaven told the packed ballroom at Tampa’s Convention Center. “A time when our unique talents as special operators are in greatest demand, a time when the nation recognizes the strategic value of our services, a time when all that we’ve trained for all that we’ve worked for all that our predecessors have planned for has come together.”

Hagel said McRaven’s most enduring legacy may be his effort to alleviate the strain of the relentless pace of deployments demanded of special forces.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

“Bill established initiatives to address the physical and mental wellbeing of his force, offer support to family members and provide more predictability on deployments,” Hagel said. “He modified SOCOM’s definition of readiness to include families, families as a vital part of that equation. Something the entire Department of Defense can learn from.”

McRaven said Socom evolved after the 9-11 terrorism attacks and now has more than 67,000 forces ready in 92 countries. Their mission is to help stabilize areas of conflict, work with the State Department on everything from providing clean water to establishing rule of law and to take the fight to Al Qaida, the Taliban, ISIS and others.

While praising his special operators, McRaven added that they are no different than other service members.

“While our missions are unique – or special – we do not view ourselves as special people,” McRaven said. “We are no more courageous, no more heroic , no more patriotic, no smarter, no harder working than our brothers and sisters in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”

McRaven is retiring and will take over as chancellor of the Texas University System. His successor is Gen. Joe Votel , an Army Ranger, who vowed that SOCOM will always, always be prepared.

Votel is a West Point graduate, the tenth commander at Socom and now responsible for ensuring the readiness of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations Forces around the globe.

You can listen to a story on the ceremony on WUSF 89.7 FM.

A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army Ranger

Bravo Seniors display their rings Friday afternoon outside the barracks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

One week from today, my son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). In two weeks, parents of cadets at The Citadel will descend on Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  It is also Ring weekend, the time all cadets look forward to their senior year.

This year is the first year, in the past four, that we will not be in Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  We are creating new rituals as the family of a graduate and new second lieutenant. I will miss the rhythm of the college school year.  Fortunately, I’ve made some wonderful friends and know we will go to Charleston for visits but our time won’t be spent following the official schedule of events for cadets.

Bravo Company Cadre lead the first year knobs in a set of push-ups at the promotion ceremony. Parents’ Weekend the knobs are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m already missing the regular information posts of The Citadel.  As the mom of a second lieutenant, I have to rely on calls, emails, or text messages from my son to fill me in on what type of training he is going through.  The Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning does have a lot of information posted, but much of it is geared toward the spouses of soldiers, not family members who are not in the area of the base. To learn the location, time and directions to the graduation next week took a phone call and a few email messages.

The next phase is Ranger School.  My son will report at the end of October. The website for Ranger School is very helpful.  I’ve also read Facebook posts of his classmates who are in the Ranger School class immediately ahead of him. They all know just how challenging this training is.  A few 2011 graduates of The Citadel have mentioned that their schedule in the real Army is tougher than knob (freshman) year.  That is saying a LOT.

Lightening Troop Class 11-005 Recon Mounted STX. Photo courtesy of the class' Facebook page.

In some ways, I feel like the mom of a knob. I get little information from my son.  He is putting in long hours and getting little rest. And he still appreciates care packages of protein based foods.

Unlike knob year, I don’t have the comfort of regular photos being posted to a web site, or parent volunteers to call with questions. In that regard, I am like any other parent of a recent college graduate living away from home and working at a new job . . . until he is deployed.

A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

%d bloggers like this: