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Book Review

'Soldier Girls' Is A Compelling Portrait Of Women In War

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Helen Thorpe profiles three women who joined the Indiana National Guard before 9/11 in her compelling new book, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War.

Free-spirited Michelle Fischer, age 21, signed up for the college tuition. Debbie Helton, age 34, is the owner of a salon and daughter of a drill sergeant. She signed up because of reverence for her father. And Desma Brooks, age 20 and a mother since 16, signed up on a dare—a friend of a friend didn’t think she could pass the physical test. All that was required from each of the women was two weeks of annual training and 12 weekends a year.

By the time they are deployed after 9/11 we know them intimately. Drawing on letters, email, journals and extensive interviews, Thorpe chronicles the 12 years of active duty as the women go from ordinary citizens to full-time soldiers. Soldier Girls' achievement is in how each woman’s particular experience illustrates the complexities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in general. The women are as competent and tough as men, despite sexual harassment and living under constant scrutiny. These soldiers find no regret in serving their country, despite returning home with PTSD, or a traumatic brain injury from a bombing in Iraq, or with the inability to cope with running a household.

Beautifully written with the emotional detail of the best fiction, Soldier Girls moves the genre of “military history” to a whole new level.