Synopses & Reviews
"A woman soldier has to toughen herself up" writes Kayla Williams in this fiercely honest account of what it's like to be part of the female 15% of today's Army. "Not just for the enemy, for battle, for death. I mean to toughen herself to spend months awash in a sea of nervy, hyped-up guys..."
By turns irreverent, vulnerable, angry, and humane, Williams describes what it's like for a young woman to be surrounded by an ocean of testosterone, respected for her skills and qualifications, but treated variously as a soldier, a sister, a mother, a bitch, and a slut.
During her five years of service including a year of deployment to Iraq during and after the invasion Williams and her female peers navigate both extreme physical danger and emotional minefields. As a specialist in Military Intelligence, fluent in Arabic language skills, Williams finds herself at the forefront of the troops' interaction with local people. Brave and patriotic, with a strong sense of duty to her country and her fellow soldiers, she is unafraid to level complaints and criticism against the inefficiencies and errors of the military sketching a blunt portrait, inspired by Ayn Rand, of the U.S. Army as "a vast communist institution."
Taking us from Baghdad to Mosul to a remote mountainous outpost on the Syrian border, Williams demonstrates a keen eye for the complexity of the U.S. military's evolving and ultimately deteriorating relations with the Iraqis. Before she leaves the country, she witnesses death up close and sees soldiers cross the line in the handling of prisoners.
Through it all the violence, boredom, and fear as well as the light-hearted moments of humor, comraderie, and flirtation Kayla Williams brings home with vivid intensity and empathy what it is like for a woman soldier to serve her country today. 8 pages of photographs.
"Williams's account of her Iraq service tries very hard to be a fresh and wised-up postfeminist take: Private Benjamin by way of G.I. Jane. Showy rough language peppers every paragraph, and Williams's obsessive self-concern, expressed in a lot of one-sentence paragraphs beginning with 'I,' verges on the narcissistic. The surprise is the degree to which the account succeeds and even echoes military memoirists from Julius Caesar to Ernie Pyle. The fear, bad weather, intermittent supplies, inedible meals (especially for the vegetarian author) and crushing boredom of life in the field are all here. Williams's particular strength is in putting an observant, distaff spin on the bantering and brutality of barracks life, where kids from the Survivor generation must come to terms with a grim and confusing reality over which they have little control. The differences are less in the sexual dynamics (which mostly are an extension of office politics) than the contradictions of the conflict in which the troops are engaged, which Williams embodies more than illuminates. She learns Arabic; there's a Palestinian boyfriend and a short, failed marriage to an Iraqi civilian. While an ex-punk, Chomsky-reading liberal, Williams questions the day-to-day conduct of the war without ever really engaging with its underlying rationale. Such nuance, though, might be too much to ask. Agent, Sydelle Kramer. 8-city author tour; 20-city radio satellite tour. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]his highly readable account will leave readers wanting more." Booklist
"[A] raw, unadulterated look at war and what it does to people." San Antonio Express-News
"Ms. Williams makes it clear that she can take as much of this as the next guy can..." New York Times
Smart, Attractive, and full of insight, Kayla Williams was part of the 15 percent of the United States Army that is female. She is also a great storyteller with a voice that leaps off the page fiercely funny, tough, vulnerable, and humane. She tells of why she enlisted and how she came to be assigned to learn Arabic; of her fractured relationship with a Palestinian boyfriend and later her failed marriage to a civilian; of her experience watching 9/11 unfold on Arabic television and the drunken parties at her army base in the weeks leading up to her deployment to Iraq.
While deployed, Williams is immersed in bravery and bigotry, strength and fear, sexism and loyalty. She witnesses death up close and sees soldiers cross the line between interrogation and torture. She befriends locals but finds herself pointing her weapon at an Iraqi child. An unsparing self-portrait of a rebellious patriot, Williams's story offers an unprecedented and no-holds-barred young woman's perspective into the U.S. Army.
An unsparing self-portrait of a rebellious patriot, Williams's story offers an unprecedented and no-holds-barred young woman's perspective into the U.S. Army and the war in Iraq.
About the Author
Kayla Williams was formerly a sergeant in a military intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). She lives in the Washington, DC, area.