Our July book club pick, Dare to Fly, was a fascinating look at Senator Martha McSally’s time in the Air Force–the discrimination she faced, how she rose above it, how she learned to fly and how she learned to stand up for generations of female service members to come. Whether you’ve ever served yourself, see it in your future, or have a service member in your family, you’ll find something to enjoy in these ten books (including our July pick) that explore what it is like to be a female in the US military and serve our nation proudly.
Martha McSally is an extraordinary achiever whose inner strength and personal principles have helped her overcome adversity throughout her life. Initially rejected from Air Force flight school because she was too short, she refused to give up, becoming the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first to command a combat fighter squadron in United States history. During her 26-year military career, she fought to free American servicewomen stationed in the Middle East from restrictions requiring them to don black full-body abayas and ride in the backs of cars – and won. McSally has continued to serve America, first in the House of Representatives and now as a US senator from Arizona.
Amber Smith flew into enemy fire in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the world. One of only a few women to fly the Kiowa Warrior helicopter, Smith rose to pilot in command and air mission commander in the premier Kiowa unit in the army, repeatedly flying into harm’s way during her 2005 and 2008 deployments with the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. Smith takes you into the heat of battle, enabling listeners to feel, hear, and smell the experience of serving as a combat pilot in high-intensity warfare. She learned to perform under pressure and persevere under extreme duress – both in action against an implacable enemy and within the elite boys’ club of army aviation.
Caroline Johnson was an unlikely aviator candidate. A tall blonde debutante from Colorado, she could have just as easily gone into fashion or filmmaking, and yet she went on to become an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Operator. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission over Iraq since 2011, and she was the first woman to drop bombs on ISIS. Jet Girl tells the remarkable story of the women fighting at the forefront in a military system that allows them to reach the highest peaks and yet is in many respects still a fraternity. Johnson offers an insider’s view on the fascinating, thrilling, dangerous, and, at times, glamorous world of being a naval aviator.
A Higher Standard takes a candid look at the exciting military career of US Army General Ann Dunwoody, who received her fourth star – a rank never before reached by a woman – in her fourth decade of service. From her first command leading 200 soldiers to her final one leading 69,000, Dunwoody reveals the challenges she faced and the changes she initiated by sharing both the smallest moments and the most pivotal events in her career.
This riveting memoir is the first book written by a female Marine about the war in Iraq and one of the only books written by a woman who has experienced combat firsthand. Deploying to Iraq in 2003, Jane Blair’s aerial reconnaissance unit was assigned to travel ahead of and alongside combat units throughout the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Throughout her deployment, Jane kept a journal of her and her fellow lieutenants’ combat experiences, which she draws on to convey the immediacy of life in the military, not just for a woman but for all Marines.
In her award-winning Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq, Kirsten Holmstedt described how female soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are fighting on the front lines in Iraq despite the military’s ban on women in combat. Now Holmstedt tells the stories of America’s fighting women as they come home from Iraq. Some return with grave physical wounds, but all struggle with the psychological toll of battle while readjusting to life at home. As Holmstedt so poignantly shows, these women may have left the war, but the war will never leave them.
One woman’s professional battle against systemic gender bias in the Marines and the lessons it holds for all of us.The Marine Corps continues to be the only service where men and women train separately in boot camp or basic training. This segregation negatively affects interaction with male marines later on, and, lower expectations of female recruits are actively maintained and encouraged. But Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano arrived at the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island–which exclusively trains female recruits–convinced that if she expected more of the women just coming into Corps, she could raise historically low standards for female performance and make women better Marines. And, after one year, shooting qualifications of the women under her command equaled those of men, injuries had decreased, and unit morale had noticeably improved. Then the Marines fired her.This is the story of Germano’s struggle to achieve equality of performance and opportunity for female Marines against an entrenched male-dominated status quo. It is also a universal tale of the effects of systemic gender bias.
Since 9/11, more than 240,000 women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan – more than 140 have died there, and they currently make up 14 percent of the total active-duty forces. Despite advances, today’s servicewomen are constantly pressed to prove themselves, to overcome challenges men never face, and to put the military mission ahead of all other aspects of their lives, particularly marriage and motherhood. In this groundbreaking insider’s look at the women defending our nation, Tanya Biank brings to light the real issues – femininity, belonging to an old boys’ club, veiled discrimination, dating, marriage problems, separation from children, questions about life goals, career trajectories, and self-worth – that servicewomen are facing by focusing on four individual stories.
Kayla Williams is one of the 15 percent of the U.S. Army that is female, and she is a great storyteller. With a voice that is “funny, frank and full of gritty details” (New York Daily News), she tells of enlisting under Clinton; of learning Arabic; and of the sense of duty that fractured her relationships; of being surrounded by bravery and bigotry, sexism and fear; and of seeing 9/11 on Al-Jazeera; and of knowing she would be going to war.
In Ashley’s War, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uses exhaustive firsthand 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 across 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 the first CST remembered on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the Army Rangers with whom she served. Transporting readers into this little-known world of fierce women bound together by valor, danger, and the desire to serve, Ashley’s War is a riveting combat narrative and a testament to the unbreakable bonds born of war.
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