TED recently released a talk delivered by noted journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, highlighting the women warriors who made history by joining special operations units in Afghanistan.
In the talk, Lemmon specifically honors the subject of her most recent book, 2nd Lt. Ashley White, a cultural support team member who made the ultimate sacrifice alongside two Rangers in October 2011 while serving in the line of duty. Lemmon’s book, “Ashley’s War,” is in the process of being adapted into a movie produced by Reese Witherspoon, says Army Times.
The book centers around a team of women who deployed in support of combat operations in Afghanistan, where it can be incredibly difficult to reach the female populace due to taboos revolving around gender norms.
Lemmon says,“If you want to understand what’s happening in a community and in a home, you talk to women, whether you’re talking about southern Afghanistan, or Southern California.” Therefore responding to the need to acquire more information to aid the operations in the region, the U.S. began the process of developing cultural support teams in 2009.
These teams were extremely valuable not only in winning hearts and minds, but just as importantly, in ascertaining nearby threats that otherwise would go unnoticed by the Ranger units operating in the area. Lemmon offers examples of cultural support team members uncovering threats from hidden insurgents lying in wait, to discovering the roadway they were meant to take was littered with ordinance. The role these women played in special operations units was undeniably valuable, and likewise unprecedented.
Cultural support teams were made up entirely of women who “at this time in the war … would be seeing the kind of combat experienced by less than five percent of the entire United States military,” while women were still officially banned from combat.
“These may well be our own Tuskegee airmen,” Lemmon adds among loud expressions of affirmation, referring to the first all-black pilots to serve in combat missions during World War II. Her comparison draws parallels between the removal of restrictions on minorities serving in the armed forces and the ongoing fight for inclusion of women in combat roles.
Lemmon concludes by honoring the progress of these women pioneers, and shares a moment from White’s funeral, where a stranger told White’s mother, “I brought my child here today because I wanted her to know what a hero was, and I wanted her to know that heroes could be women too.”
Watch the whole video below: