Review: Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe

Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War - Helen Thorpe

This was a different type of book than most of the women in military. Rather than profile women across ranks/branches of service, this book profiled three women in one unit. The Indiana National Guard had more service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan than any other National Guard in the country. The women (Michelle, Debbie, and Desma) joined at different times but all prior to 9/11.

 

This book examined the National Guard's readiness, the reliance on the working and poor class to fill in the ranks, and the piss poor planning and execution of war plans, much less war plans for more than one war and more than one country. The women profiled were the lens the author used to give civilians a raw, unfiltered look at the state of the military at the dawn of 9/11 and again on the dawn of OIF.

 

Michelle was the youngest and latest to join (March 2001) and was in the army's technical training when the towers fell. She leans hard left on the political spectrum (voting for Ralph Nader three times), which made her a minority among her army colleagues. Desma joined the army on a dare and was neutral on politics. Debbie was an older enlistee and had been with the unit since 1986. She was a strong supporter for the war in Afghanistan and the Bush administration. The women had hard scrabble lives before and during their time in the unit; the military was a way to at least try and make something more of their lives.

 

The way they lived and their behavior made me see them as more of "playing soldier" then actual disciplined military members. These women were not the polished, camera-ready, and Public Affairs-approved soldiers. I would not want to work with these women; I would feel that military work is for people who were looking to do more than have a good time. I felt that way more when the unit deployed first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq. The aftermath of those deployments was the most relatable thing I had with these women.

 

There was a definite agenda that the author was pushing. She was repetitive to mention that Desma had trouble with her kids and finding childcare for the year she would be gone. The author also was repetitive when it came to Debbie being deployed while her adult daughter had a baby and how old Debbie was (she was in her early 50s when she first deployed). The author made it clear that she doesn't want women with children in the military or perhaps women in the military at all. She took great pains to make Michelle the voice of opposition to war and the victim of political war-mongering; I actually agreed with Michelle on certain topics and the war in Iraq was one, but I was most disappointed in Michelle's behavior.

 

Overall, I think this book is needed to take the shine off most books about women in the military. This book touched on a lot of themes that other books avoid at all cost, and for that I am grateful. I think this is an important book, but as a retired AF active duty member, I don't relate to these women's experiences at all.