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.

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The Story of the All Female Unit That Served with SOF

Ashley's_War_book_coverGayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of Ashley’s War, a book on the women who served with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, is speaking Monday, May 18, 2015 at 3:30 pm at the Port Tampa Library,  4902 West Commerce Street, Tampa, FL

Good Reads calls Ashley’s War “a 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.”

Lemmon’s discussion is sponsored by the Women In International Security Florida WIIS. It will be followed by a book signing.

In Ashley’s War, 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, and the remarkable hero at its heart: 1st Lt. Ashley White, who would become the first Cultural Support Team member killed in action and honored on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the men of Ranger Regiment with whom she died on mission.

Lemmon also shared details about the book during an interview with National Public Radio in April. You can listen to that interview here. She also authored the New York Times bestseller, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

The author is also scheduled to appear a the US Special Operations Command celebration of the Global SOF (Special Operations Forces) Foundation One Year Anniversary Celebration at the Tampa History Center at 7 pm on Monday, May 18, 2015.

Rambo’s Days Are Over, GI Jane May Have to Wait Years

The ban on women in combat was lifted Jan. 23, 2013. Though 99 percent of the careers offered in the Air Force are open to women, the decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. 2013 marks the 20th year that the Department of Defense allowed women to serve as combat pilots. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony/Released)

The ban on women in combat was lifted Jan. 23, 2013. Though 99 percent of the careers offered in the Air Force are open to women, the decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. 2013 marks the 20th year that the Department of Defense allowed women to serve as combat pilots. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony/Released)

The days of Rambo are over (a quote from a special ops officer), but it could be years before GI Jane appears in some combat roles.

That’s a broad summary of plans to integrate women into previously closed combat positions. The plans were reviewed and released by the Department of Defense earlier this week.

Among the services, the Marines have the fewest women, only 6 percent, and therefore are taking a “slow and deliberate” pace to assess what combat positions should be opened to women according to NPR reporter Larry Abramson.

Abramson’s story examines how quickly the various branches are moving but the overall process is expected to take years.

Some women are worried that arbitrary barriers such as social concerns will pop up because there is resistance from small, elite teams reports Abramson.

But the special operations officer said that “combat isn’t about strength any longer.” Special Operations and other military are looking for smart qualified operators who can learn and speak foreign languages and understand culture. You can listen to the NPR story HERE.

The Stars and Stripes reports that as early as the end of this year the Navy may open up jobs to women in its Riverine Force’s small craft.

In the near future, the plans call primarily for study of institutional and cultural factors of putting women into units closed to them under the 1994 combat exclusion policy, which former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted in January.

In addition, a key step will be the establishment of gender-neutral physical and mental standards for each position, including infantry, artillery, armor and special operations forces.

The Army, which has hundreds of thousands of jobs in combat units closed to women, said in its plan that it would present gender-neutral standards to qualify for those positions during 2015.

 

Women in Combat Roles to Become a Reality Jan. 1, 2016

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

It’s official.The Department of Defense plans to integrate women into combat positions they previously could not hold because of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment.

But not all positions are open as of yet. For example, Admiral William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, submitted a three part proposal to determine if women can serve in the small, elite teams like the SEAL Teams, the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Groups among others.

His plan for USSOCOM: Part one, an analysis with emphasis on “gender-neutral training standards” of entry courses and an evaluation of facilities.  Part two: research into the social and psychological impacts of integrating women into the teams. And part three: commission an independent study by RAND Corporation looking at those same topics.

Reports from all three parts are due July 2014. Then by April 2015, USSOCOM will submit to Congress a list of positions and “occupational specialties” open to women. And, at that time some units and specialties still might request an exemption from including women.

Full implementation by the services should occur by Jan. 1, 2016. The following are links to the individual plans:

On Jan. 24, 2013, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey initiated the call to lift the ban on women in combat.

Women in the Military: An NPR Series Continues

Photo courtesy of the BBB Military website.

Photo courtesy of the BBB Military website.

The NPR series on women in the military continues with a look at the problem of sexual assault. Quil Lawrence reported Wednesday that the Pentagon’s own research showed that more than 1 in 4 women in the military will experience sexual assault during their careers.

About 19,000 sex crimes take place in the military each year, according to the Pentagon’s most recent estimate. Many of the victims are male, but men in the service face the same risk of sexual assault as civilian men do. It’s a different story for women. Women who join the military face a much higher risk of sexual assault than civilian women.

“It’s a complex problem because it involves a culture change,” says Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, the head of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “We have to see a culture change where those victims of this crime are taken seriously at their unit level by every member of their unit, so you don’t see the divisiveness and the lack of support and the feeling of isolation that these victims feel.”

How U.S. families adjust to having a mother or daughter or wife head off to war is the topic of Tuesday’s story. And Monday, the series looked at the battle women have had to wage to get recognized for serving in combat. It dates back to 1779. Continue reading

Women Have Been in Combat Since 1779

Army Spc. Brittany B. Gordon was the daughter of St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon and his former wife, Brenda Gordon. Photo courtesy of the Gordon family.

Army Spc. Brittany B. Gordon was the daughter of St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon and his former wife, Brenda Gordon. Photo courtesy of the Gordon family.

If you’re not an NPR listener, you missed a piece on women in combat Monday morning. It’s part of a series this week. The story began with an interesting historical perspective:

America has been debating the role of women in combat since 1779.

That’s when the Continental Congress first awarded a military disability pension to Mary Corbin after she manned a cannon in the Revolutionary War at the battle of Fort Washington in New York. Corbin got only half the pension male soldiers received, but she asked for — and received — the full ration of rum.

And women have been “manning” the weapons and caring for the wounded ever since, yet they are not fully recognized for what they’ve achieved in a realm dominated by men.

“Are women in combat?” asks Sgt. Jessica Keown rhetorically to NPR reporters and . “Hell, yes.”

You can listen to Sgt. Keown and other women from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars HERE.

The second half the the story is of particular interest to those living on the west coast of Florida. Lawrence talks to the father of  Spc. Brittany Gordon who was killed in October 2012 while on a mission to meet with Afghan intelligence north of Kandahar.

Brittany was the daughter of St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon. She grew up in St. Petersburg and her friends have paid tribute to Brittany by collecting donations for soldiers and sending boxes of goodies to those serving in Afghanistan.

“I wonder sometimes if that’s the depth of my grief, because I always felt like I should be there to protect her, you know, as a father,” said Gordon, whose daughter was killed in Afghanistan where she was serving with the Army.

Just wondering if a mother of a soldier doesn’t feel the same thing about her son serving in combat.

Nearly a Century of Women Serving in Combat

Beatrice MacDonald’s American Hospital identification, 1915. Ann Fraser Brewer Papers, Schlesinger Library

Beatrice MacDonald’s American Hospital identification, 1915. Ann Fraser Brewer Papers, Schlesinger Library

Women have been serving under fire just like men for almost a century as members of the Army Medical Department and even longer as volunteers.

There have been thousands of women. A few are featured an article published online by Lewis Barger, AMEDD Office of Medical History:

Beatrice MacDonald was the first of three nurses to receive the Distinguished Service Cross after she volunteered to accompany a surgical team reinforcing a British Casualty Clearing Station on the front lines during World War I.

On the night of August 17, 1917, Germans bombarded the hospital tent where MacDonald was on duty, according to an article on the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University:

During the course of this raid, MacDonald was gravely wounded and lost an eye. She eventually recovered and insisted upon returning to duty, claiming, “I’ve only started doing my bit.”

Ruby Bradley, (sitting with her arm over the side rail and waving to the camera) during the liberation of the POW camp at Santo Tomas in the Philippines during World War II. Photo courtesy AMEDD.

Ruby Bradley, (sitting with her arm over the side rail and waving to the camera) during the liberation of the POW camp at Santo Tomas in the Philippines during World War II. Photo courtesy AMEDD.

During World War II, Capt. Annie Mealer was serving on Corregidor as a chief nurse.

Instead of evacuating, she stayed to tend to the casualties being brought in as the Japanese took control of the island.

According to Mealer’s online account by Army.mil, “… I reviewed the cases in the tunnel. They all needed help that only a nurse could give them. I sent word to my commanding officer that I would stay with them. Here in this tunnel choked with shell smoke and misery was a group of people that meant more to me than anything else.”

Mealer was captured along with the remainder of the garrison and spent nearly three years as a prisoner of war at Santo Tomas, along with the other women who had been captured in the islands including Maj. Ruby Bradley, would remain in service after the war and find herself in combat again in Korea as chief nurse.

You can read the full AMEDD article here.

You can learn more about women’s service at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum website.

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