Women on the Firing Line

In a new book, Laura Browder, Ph.D.’94, shines the spotlight on four dozen female veterans of contemporary warfare

Colonel Jenny Holbert, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired.
Colonel Jenny Holbert, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired.

Sgt. Katharine Broome, Virginia Army National Guard, a college dropout in a dead-end job, had decided that a higher education might not be such a bad idea when a military recruiter who worked in the same strip mall showed her how to get one.

Sgt. Major Andrea Farmer, U.S. Army, had a “godbrother” who served in the military during the Vietnam era and was full of exciting and sometimes funny stories about army life.

Sgt. Jocelyn Proano, U.S. Marine Crops, had been expelled from high school for fighting when she heard about an army youth challenge program that combined boot camp–style training with preparation for the GED.

Each found her future in fatigues, according to Laura Browder, Ph.D.’94, professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of “When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans.” Browder, who previously wrote “Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America,” was inspired by the burgeoning involvement of women in contemporary combat.

The volume, released in March by the University of North Carolina Press, combines 48 color portraits by photographer Sascha Pflaeging with Browder’s Q&A-format interviews on subjects that encompass the women’s sense of mission, motherhood, spirituality, and combat experiences, among others. What do you say to the toddler you are leaving behind? Why is the divorce rate for military women higher than that for military men? How do you handle the fact that the same Iraqis who are doing your laundry in the morning are mortaring your base at night? Where do you go to fix the nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder?

The questions are not easy ones, and the answers are not formulaic. Despite the hard realities, the book is a beautiful one, carefully designed and produced. The portraits, each thoughtfully, deliberately posed by the woman it represents, seem to open windows into their souls, and, in combination with the women’s candid and revealing words, create an inspirational publication.

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