Kayla Williams, |
Love My Rifle More Than You:
Young & Female in the U.S. Army
(W.W. Norton, 2005)
Kayla Williams opens her memoir by declaring that all Army females are either bitches (they won't sleep with you) or sluts (they'll sleep with everyone but you). She stayed a bitch during her tour in the U.S. Army, but that didn't stop her from being the subject of some nasty rumors.
Williams is a bit older than your typical enlistee, she's college-educated and she's dated a Muslim man, so she provides a unique perspective on the Army and her deployment to Muslim Iraq. She's stationed for some time with 18-year-old infantry grunts, and while she has a much different (and understanding) attitude toward the locals, she understands how someone defending a position and getting attacked can do nothing but hate every Iraqi man, woman and child as a potential insurgent.
Again and again, Williams questions the plan as a whole. Stop points and roadblocks are erected with no Arabic signage, Muslim women are afraid of strange men and the last military in the country (Saddam's) consisted of ruthless killers, so how are local Iraqi villages supposed to understand what is going on at roadblocks? Then again, there have been plenty of female suicide bombers, so what are the soldiers supposed to expect? Williams has to use underground circuits to get her vegetarian kosher/halal meals, even though most soldiers hate them and abandon them with the trash, because she can't officially get religious meals due to a "personal dietary" (vegetarian) preference. In one heartbreaking scene, Williams interprets during the search of a Catholic monastery. Her superiors are hot-headed, interrupting a service, destroying property and ignoring the priest who reaches out to them as a brother. Later, she gets someone to do a good turn for the monastery, which leaves the reader with some hope.
Williams also deals repeatedly with female leaders who put their soldiers at risk, don't understand the mission, don't grasp the political situation and are incompetent when it comes to dealing with her group's equipment. Williams disagrees with the military system of promoting people due to time in grade unless something really bad happens. She comes across too many people promoted to leadership roles who don't have the skills to back their position up, but they happened to have served long enough to move up. In her closing comments, she discusses how the Army gives you no incentive to excel at your job -- the bare minimum is just fine, and it will get you promoted nicely.
Williams provides an unparalleled view of life on the ground floor of the war in Iraq. She never provides any solid answers, choosing instead to reveal how confused and frustrated she was, yet how rewarding some parts of the experience were. I rather like the fact that she is honest about her love/hate relationship with the Army and the mission in Iraq, and she transports the reader to the point of view of a foot solider. I would have liked to learn a little more about what her tasks were doing signal intelligence for 12-hour shifts (on occasion), but perhaps she got legal advice not to reveal those secrets of the U.S. Army.
by Jessica Lux-Baumann