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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recommended Reading - Love My Rifle More Than You

In a dress, away from the base, you'd never guess I was a soldier. Always been a girl that catches a guy's eyes. And yet I do fifty-five pushups in under a minute. Tough, and proud to be tough. I love my M-4, the smell of it, of cleaning fluid, of gunpowder: the smell of strength. Gun in your hands, and you're in a special place. I've come to look forward to that.
Col. Jeff Cooper wrote that while war offers little in the way of glamor, what glamor there is is very glamorous indeed. He was, of course, writing about the warrior, who sometimes has to face - and win - hand to hand combat.

It's different for our women warriors, who are assigned to duties where hand-to-hand combat is not expected. This sets up an informal dual-tier system, and that means that women are always viewed differently. There's always the unspoken thought that when the going gets tough, the men go to the front.

Love My Rifle More Than You is a very unsentimental book. Harsh, almost.

Kayla Williams was an Arabic translator assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, during Operation Iraqui Freedom. A self-described "punk-rebel" who found an unexpected - and sometimes uncomfortable - home in Uncle Sam's Army, she found something unexpected in herself.

There's also always the unspoken thought that you're the only female around.
A woman soldier has to toughen herself up. Not just for the enemy, for battle, or for death. I mean toughen herself to spend months awash in a sea of nervy, hyped-up guys who, when they're not thinking about getting killed, are thinking about getting laid.
There's not much in this book about OIF itself. Most of it is about the stresses of the post-invasion occupation, after the main fighting was over, but while everything was still very unsettled. About the struggle to cope.
Speak to infantry soldiers who have been in tough situations for a long time, and they will say that they treat everyone as the enemy. That's how they deal. That's how they survive.

I consider myself a reasonably compassionate person. I speak the language, and I have Arab friends, so I believe I'm better equipped than most soldiers to see these civilians as people. Not simply as the enemy. But even for me there are times I am feeling overwhelmed by the situation. God, why can't we just kill everyone - or leave them to fucking kill each other? Because I can't care any more.
Like the time she was riding shotgun with a convoy, and a local car starts to cut them off. Everyone's nerves are frayed from VBIED suicide bombers:
The car is not pulling back. He's not getting the message.

It's tremendously loud with no doors. No one in the Humvee but me sees this car yet. It's in my field of fire. It's my call to decide what to do next.

I raise my weapon and point into the car. I can feel my adrenaline pumping. I do not know what's going to happen.

I will shoot if this car is beginning to feel like a threat.

My weapon status is red. Always red on the convoy now. My safety's on, though I know some soldiers are not bothering with keeping their weapons on safety anymore. But I do. It's still less than a second. Flip, squeeze. After the first round, I can fire at will.

Just then, a passenger on my side turns to look for the first time.

It's a little boy. Not more than eight or nine years old. I'm pointing my weapon at a boy who looks exactly like Rick's little brother.

The boy looks at me looking at him.

I lower my rifle and hold it with one hand across my knees. Without thinking, I wave at the boy with my other hand.

And after a moment, he waves back.
This book will make you think. It will also make you appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in the service make, because their sacrifice doesn't end when the bullets stop flying.

1 comment:

ASM826 said...

Beach reading, I surmise.

I read this last year. My thought, then and now, when I read that passage about her lowering her weapon on the car with the young boy it, is that it was still a threat. The boy could have been there, completely unknowing, and the car could still have been a bomb. In real time, you make snap decisions and time rolls on. This time she was lucky.