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tv   Gayle Lemmon on Ashleys War  CSPAN  May 24, 2015 10:00pm-10:40pm EDT

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in there all along this same track meaning they're removing from the midwest with that technology apparatus to place that at the center of activity along route 128 as well one. >> one of the things that killed kodak as a company is it stayed in rochester new york but all the work was happening that was a digital. so i invented and mary berra from gm but should mention from ford as well.
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. . people will live differently and work differently in the future so i hope we can get the national will to have the conversation to make this optimistic scenario come true. >> host: well let's move in with this book we will.
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thank you dr. cancer. just go thank you very much secretary slater. >> you are watching booktv, 48 hours of authors and books every weekend. next, gayle lemmon talks about the operation commenced cultural support teams.
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it's a program that puts women on the battlefield to conduct culturally sensitive missions in afghanistan that require contact with women and children despite women being officially banned from combat. >> hello. good evening. welcome to book passage in san francisco's historic building. i want to thank you all for coming out tonight to support independent bookstores and independent thinking. i also want to thank our future c-span viewers. we have c-span here with us tonight videotaping so know that you are on camera. so when we go-round for the duende also know that we will be having a mic around to capture your question for c-span. but we are very honored tonight to welcome author and journalist gayle tzemach lemmon a senior fellow at the council of orange relations as well as the contributed -- contributed to
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the linick defense one where she reports on issues of national security and foreign-policy. she is also the best-selling author of the dressmaker the remarkable story of a community of entrepreneurial active women under taliban rule. she is here tonight to talk about her latest book already garnering lots of national attention and praise called "ashley's war"." it's a book that looks at the all but unknown history and i think ultimately the continuing legacy of a special owl woman pilot program known as the cultural support team to putting women on the battlefield alongside other special ops teams to give access to women could hear in-depth reporting brings the story to light and in particular for ashley white for whom the book is titled illustrated not only the valor of these women and their bravery but incredible courage and their desire to fight for their country. so please join me in a very warm
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welcome for gayle tzemach lemmon. [applause] >> is it's so nice to be here with all of you and of course i would have loved c-span since i was 10 years old so that's very exciting that c-span is here. we will keep it pretty informal. i will talk for 15 minutes and then we can do the quest in an answer. the story began when i was hosting an event in 2012 at the council on foreign relations and i was asking somebody about combat story. she said well it's just like the first lieutenant who lost her life on the battlefield in afghanistan in the special operations might mission and i said what? so she said yeah e there was this lieutenant who was out there and she was on a night raid alongside ranger regiment and a lot of these guys were special operations teams and if you look at her open to where he actually says that she is a member of the north carolina national guard but if you keep
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reading it tells you the story of what she was actually doing the night she died. she was part of a special operations team. i said, how is that possible? the combat ban is still on. i certainly know afghanistan from the privilege of writing about dressmaker but i had never known that women were out there were special operations teams. and so three questions immediately popped into my mind. who are these people what were they doing out there and why is the country did we have no idea that women were out there seeing the kind of combat that lesson 5% of the u.s. military seized while the combat ban was still officially in place because if you had come in and out of afghanistan as many in this room have you with no there were a lot of women that you would see on airplanes or on patrols that he didn't necessarily know what
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it was that they were doing and he certainly didn't know that they were on those kinds of nighttime raids so those were the questions i started with and i called up a beautiful family rob and debbie wyatt in ohio. i found them and i called them and i said you don't know me but you can look at everything i've ever written and i would really like to come and talk to you about your daughter. as it turns out no one had really called and said that and it had been 18 months since she had given her life for the united states. and i think they had always hoped that someone would call because it is every family who loses a child in these wars will tell you their biggest fear is that your child is forgotten. so i went out to see them in the first thing that struck me which is still the thing i think about every time i think about this story was assigned that was in the corner written on a piece of torn off notebook paper like
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some of you carry everyday to school and it says you are my motivation and all block letters. what i quickly realized was that it was not her death not her death that it made her so extraordinary and special. it was her life. so that reporting trip led to two years hundreds and hundreds of hours of interviews, a lot of very bad gas station coffee cups filled with coffee mate hazelnut or french vanilla and a lot of holiday inn express night stays all around the country trying to find the answers to those three questions. and i spent a lot of time with some of the most senior people in the special operations community and with some of the most battle tested special operations and of course this incredible cast of women because at the heart of it this is the story of friendship. it's a story of courage and it's the story of love only on the
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battlefield that no one else will ever understand that the people who serve alongside you. it just so happens that these people were female. so i started meeting with a group of these people trying to figure out what they had done. what i quickly realized was they were not there because of some social experiment. they were there because of the security gap that some of the most tested leaders leaving america through 14 years of war felt so there was a security gap on these night raids which is that you really have the sense you could only talk to have the population because in the conservative traditional country like afghanistan soldiers whenever able to speak to women so admiral olson who was the first navy s.e.a.l. to head special operations said we need to get more knowledge out there. there is information we don't know about. there are people we don't know about and when you are trying to keep the pressure on the insurgency in afghanistan people
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who are trying to take down the government you have to know everything that you can. so he has this idea about the yin and yang of warfare and as he jokingly said a lot of people were waiting for the next commander to come in. but then the head of joint special operations command at mcraven comes in with an actual request for his rangers and says we need women out here. so from those two men plus general mcchrystal and a bunch of others that over time really come to believe that they were not getting everything out the information that they could have and they were leaving a security gap there to fill came the idea for what became known as the cultural support teams which is incredibly benign name for an actually groundbreaking concept that you needed women to see the kind of operations that -- the entire united states military was seeing at the time.
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so the poster goes out, female soldiers become part of history joint special operations command on the battlefield in afghanistan. almost all of that but you see in the early pages of this book of the same reaction. there is this way too good -- these were people who had always wanted to test themselves. the only thing they hunger for us to put themselves in the most challenging situation could face the biggest test they could to do a mission that mattered and to serve alongside the best of the best. and all of a sudden they had their chance even though officially they were not permitted in combat so admiral olson comes up with a support team. they are attached to any special operations team that needs them. that could be rangers or seals were special forces would some of you remember and that was the idea. in one of the early stages i think a lot of people remember the most is more than 200 women
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apply for the program at about 100 come to this not very nice hotel called the line art in on fort rag. it's not posh the way you san franciscans think of hotels. they all causes landmark and they have the same moment in the breakfast room where he had the waffle maker and the metal milk machine and they would look around and you have never had a moment when you have been around them and who were as hungry as ambitious as driven and as really committed to doing something that mattered as they were. they all have this kind of moment where they had been so used to being only giraffe at the zoo that they didn't know they were more people like them. so what follows from that motel experience is what is called 100 hours of hell. that was the past that they have to face because 110 women come and 50 are going to make it.
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100 hours of hell was a series of mental and physical tests climbing 30 but while figuring out puzzles, doing a lot of things with incomplete information and then doing things like putting 35 or 40 pounds on your back sometimes more walking marching for an unknown distance and that could be for two miles but in this case it was more like nine 10 or 11 miles. so was not made for everybody but what each of these women have with the same experience. almost all of them had friends who forwarded them a note that said i would never do this but this looks like it was perfectly made for you. and so you have this assembly of women the instructors had never seen much of anything like it and they assemble in the stands and they immediately start to realize that even though they are competing with one another they all want each other to be great. they want to do great out there because they know everything they do is going to be watched by everybody who comes after her. every female who comes -- gets a
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chance to come afterwards will depend on whether they succeed or not. as a pilot program before them and they were the first chosen out of the army and guard reserve. so they are chosen in march or may and they start training in june or july and by august they are deployed onto the battlefield alongside people who had served five, six, seven, eight, 10 11 or 12 combat deployments in the last decade and they were really this incredible team of characters. they strike you as characters because i could never have made them up if i tried. one west point track star never wore socks when she runs, never wear socks when she runs and that causes a stir as you you'll see in the early pages of the look because her boots smell so badly that her teammate can't take it and puts them in a trash
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bag and puts them in the bathtub in limbo for she introduces herself. you have another gal who is maybe 5 feet 3 inches on a good day who played high school of all all three years and do actually want it does.then go to the glee club after year one but because people told her that girls can play foot all she felt she had to keep going. but then you had another gal who basically looked like heidi and as a kid love to shoot stuff and didn't know that women couldn't be in the infantry until much later. she was one of those people who wanted to test yourself all the time and she ends up going to bosnia as an intel officer coming back deciding to become an actual officer from enlisted. she goes and helps the fbi in pennsylvania. then there was the gal who won a
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bronze star medal for valor and another woman or for deployment to have served in iraq and afghanistan three times and then you had first lieutenant ashley white. who was this beautiful five-foot two-inch blonde who has her ranger tank -- trainer would ever say looks like a disneyland grieder. this megatron flying gal who had a smile that would light up the room and he would never talk to you about what she had done that was one of those people who would get up, the great, shuffle away and always say she had done absolutely nothing spectacular. she really was from everybody you talk to the best. i think quite honestly the best character. she grew up in the beautiful small town in ohio where you always took the hard right over the easy wrong where you work hard for you never look for shortcuts where you always asked
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how other people were doing before you worry about yourself. she was one of the gals who they would work out three times a day across that mostly enduring lunch they would work out so when they would come back she would take fruit juice and granola and pass them around so everyone as they sat there sweating -- she was one of these people if you forgot your boots are you needed something she was the one you called because she always had it ready and she would never make you feel foolish. and there's a scene early on so 20 of the most fierce, most fed most feminine get chosen to go with ranger regiment. these guys have been continuously deployed since 9/11. these are some of the most tested special operations teams and they had never had to take females out with them on a mission. so they figured if they were going to do this for the first
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time they would have women who would keep a poor fit and in the heat of battle take off their helmets and show they were female which is why the character in the book would always wear braids. she would take her helmet off and was immediately apparent under all this body armor and weapons, pistol and rifle night vision goggles that she was in fact capable. so on these missions what would happen was they would all go in the helicopter in the dead of night go to the combat. the rangers would look for the person they were looking for and the women and children in the middle of all this combat would be ushered away away from everything else going on in the women wouldn't talk to them. lo and behold they would have experiences where sometimes they would say the guy you were looking at is two houses over which certainly made things a lot easier for the men alongside
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who these women were serving. one night one of the gals early on finds a woman sitting on an ak-47. another time early on a woman has been given a suicide vest and wasn't that the women were part of the insurgency that they have been asked to keep things by people so really quickly these women who had just been plucked from their regular units were out there in the heat of battle at night alongside guys who have done 10 11, 12 deployments the equivalent of three or four years of war. and they were proving themselves. what they found was it was hard to be the only female who had never worked with women. they were open-minded because all these guys wanted to do was accomplish their mission and get home. and if those gals could get out there and pay their rent and show their value that was all they asked for. one of the ranger traders they
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got one week before they got to come eight days at this point and this point in he has this moment at the beginning where he looks around and get asked, you have to go train girls. what kind of assignment is that? at the end of his eight days it's like these women may end up being our own tuskegee airmen. i don't want to use language that is in the book around children but read the chapter because you will see there is a lot of colorful language where he just has these moments where they are serious. they want to be here at the want to be here and they can do it i am sure as heck going to teach them everything i know. what he found was that they had heart and they had great and when they asked him he wrote up and down with the body armor on
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its hard for a lot of them. and then comes ashley white who goes up and down three times using only her arms and then apologizes because they taught them to do it using their arms and legs. he said if you guys do out there what you do hear you are going to be fine because you care you want to be there and those guys understand that all they want to do is their job. so all this goes on and they start to prove themselves. they are all starting to get their and then tragedy strikes and first lieutenant ashley white is on a mission just like every other night with her interpreter who was a gal from orange county who has a chapter 11 all hers and she is one of those people who thought
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she was going to do a humanitarian mission, leaves orange county to interpret realizes 36 hours she got there that in fact she's going to be translating bagram detainees 12 hours on, 12 hours off in afghanistan and soon gets asked if she wants to be part of the team. that was a derisive way of saying the all girl team that new culture support thing and do you want to go out and do these kinds of missions? she had absolutely no training and within two weeks of saying yes she finds herself on helicopters as her teammates would say not or he could care that look like it had come from the korean war and she's out there trying to be the voice and the eyes and ears of the women with whom she's working. one time one of the gals says
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you really need to keep up. she's like i was in orange county at the mall two years ago wearing my state had. i'm doing the best i can out here. she had this very human and very relatable moment and i think the other human -- one that stands out for a lot of people was when nadia the interpreter is waiting for ashley and her teammates to come in. they are in the ladies room and she doesn't know what they're going to be like. one gal is putting on her eyebrows and another is doing her eyeliner. she goes oh you wear makeup. i'm so glad. her teammates says yeah obviously that's not what we do on a regular basis but i like to feel like myself when i go to work.
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she said i'm really blonde and i look kind of sick up and get my eyebrows done. you can be feminine and you can be fierce and you can be fit and go out there and do your job well. that makes them even more bound to one another. so ashley calls her interpreter one night and nadia her interpreter is not included to go out on this mission because she had sprained her wrist a couple of weeks back and she was not officially cleared by the doctor doctor to go back on mission. but because it's ashley and it's because of ashley asked her she says yes because the she told me if it were a situation where i run crutches i would say yes. so many people used us when they wanted to get their money out of us as translators and ashley always treated us.
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we were getting our job done. they go out on a mission. everything seems fine until it isn't and within a short period of time a daisy chain ied is set off which means you step on it in one place and it explodes and others in first lieutenant ashley white is injured seriously along with private first class christopher horner on his first deployment and sergeant first class christopher -- christopher domine on his 14th. as she passes the two rangers are killed there is a moment of crisis in addition to the huge amount of grief. that moment of crisis all the women said are they going to shut us down? is america finally going to realize that there were women out there on night raids and the
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fact that female died going to explode into the headlines and the public isn't going to go but take it and we are all going to be sent back home. the truth is they barely notice. the special operations immunity does know this and immediately descends upon ashley's ohio town and her parents had actually not really known what she was doing because she tried to protect them. so the first time they learned about what it was that she was doing they hear the words new and groundbreaking and in special operations when they go to bring her home. the head of operations command comes and says make no mistake about it, these women are warriors. they have set a new standard on
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what it means to be a woman in the finest army in the face of this earth and ashley will not be forgotten. the next day at her funeral they have a range -- ranger speaks and reads the teddy teddy roosevelt, the says this is written for a man that speaks to the fallen soldier and the ranger brothers will be out there in your honor every day. so all of this is happening but nobody in afghanistan has a sense of it and in fact one of the historians comes and says to you guys want to keep going to tristan the west point -- who becomes ashley's replacement in kandahar. some people think you want to keep going and she said nothing with dishonor her emory moore and stopping this mission. i can promise you that i won't die any more than any of the
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rest of us because this is what we have signed up to do. we didn't sign up to give our lives that we did sign up to give something so this is a conversation that's going on in all the women keep going out and it is true that i think not a single one of them thinks that any job will ever measure up to what they did that year along special operations. they loved the job, they loved the mission they considered it a privilege to be doing the work that they were doing because they were at the heart of a mission that mattered serving with the best of the best which is all they have ever asked for. in fact another member of this team who had this unique distinction of being both a sorority sister and rotc cadet and a women's studies major she has this statement that she says
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when she 17 i hate being a girl because everything that was out of reach. all of a sudden everything they dreamed of doing made sense. they have incredible leaders so the officer in charge was another gal you had been a track star would seem to be a common theme in a high school teacher. and when i asked her to be the officer in charge he said absolutely. she was one of those leaders who exercised whole person. she never saw people is working for her. one gal one they wanted a different kind of breakfast cereal and it was there the next week. another gal had a guy who kept trying to come into her home on bass and she was like i'm here to go to work. i'm not here to go have coffee with you. she called her officer in charge and never heard from her again and never new to this day would happen. this team was found not just that a teammate that they lost but the love of mission that
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transcended the fact that they were all different parts of afghanistan. and there is one final story i want to tell you which is that at the very start of this process at the end of my first set of interviews with mr. and mrs. white i asked them what would it mean for you if a little girl said she wanted to be like ashley? mrs. white who is a teacher's aide at a school bus driver and has a catering business on the side looked at me and said, it would mean everything because a huge part of ashley's legacy is those women that she left us and those friends who will always be part of our family. and her legacy is helping
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america to know them then maybe ashley will have left us more than we thought at the beginning beginning. she told me a story at the very end of ashley's funeral where women comes up to her with her daughter. she still doesn't know to this day who she was and she says mrs. white, i brought my daughter here today because i wanted her to know what a hero was. the other thing i wanted her to know was that women could be heroes to. and i think that is the legacy that these teams leave us. we could talk about policy and all of these women were recognized by special operations command when the combat ban was lifted in january of 2013. in june of 20131 of the special operations leader said those young girls in cst i was so impressed with their business
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and the truth is i think they may have laid the foundation for integration so all of these conversations are still going on and by january 2016 we will now whether women will be able to become s.e.a.l.s in their own right but we have had a lot of conversations about women what women could and should do and few acknowledge most of what they have actually done. this is a team story, a story of friendship, the story of character and action and a story about the power of purpose and i hope you enjoy the book. thank you so much. [applause] questions please if you have any. >> do you happen to know if there are teams like this being sent out in places that aren't
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official war zones? >> these teens, i think there are lots of things we don't know about them all the time but these teams are winding down in afghanistan, winding down but there are always things that are happening. officially these teams are winding down with the end of the war in afghanistan. there's a moment in the epilogue you will see where they have this year that is change their lives. they have these friends that they have are going to love forever and the first thing that struck me in a room with a bunch of these women was they are each other's family. they were at each other's jokes they are each other's career counselors and divorce therapist and baby shower hose. they are forever connected. they're the people that text at 2:00 a.m. and the people that call at 6:00 a.m. and that will never change no matter what happens with these teams.
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quite honestly is a country we have never had a chance to see that among women because there haven't been many of these teams created to answer a battlefield team. >> one thing if there's anything else you want to cover, this is also a love story. ashley's husband was her penn state rotc sweetheart. he adjusts finishes on deployment in afghanistan and he really did not initially want her to go on the mission. she tells him what she wants to do and you will see in the chapter and she said this is what i want to do. he is like oh, no way. i don't think you know what you're getting into. that is serious combat that you are talking about it that's why people asked them to do the jobs they do. she says that's what i want to
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do. i want to be with the best people who are out there. you said yourself they are the best guys at what they do and he acknowledges that india is a moment where he eventually he caused his dad and he says what do i do because he never wanted to keep her from being the best that she could be. in fact he was the one who made her sparkle. he would never see her smile and photos before she met him and afterward she was eyes smiling. they deeply, deeply loved one another but because his dad and his dad says you guys guys have forever and you've never been one to hold her back. he said you are right because he never wanted her to regret the what if. what if she hadn't tested yourself because she was this wild mix of martha stewart and g.i. jane. she was somebody who loved making dinner for her husband
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and loves putting 40-pound weight on her back and marching for 10 miles doing 25430 pull-ups climbing a 15-foot rope if you look at her cross that work out. he never wanted her to feel like he had been the one to hold her back when he had been such a part of helping her become who she was. >> when these women went on these missions and they talk to the local -- i'm assuming the women thought they were men and were they really surprise? >> shocked. >> i'm assuming because they were women they were able to build a level of trust a lot
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more quickly. >> yeah there was this moment where you take off your helmet and oh my -- guys underneath all of that is a female and he put on a headscarf or you have a conversation. this is war. it is not like there was kamala brown but there was a moment of connection where they were talking to one another and in fact the women would keep them away from everything else happening and they would have conversations. i think that's why these teams were able to be effective. it's not that every night was successful but on balance you are much more likely to communicate to have a conversation and exchange of information with a woman than you were certainly with the guy but all that gear like one of the guys saying we have looked like martians. >> i guess because these women were doing the very things that the local women couldn't do also
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were like what are you doing here? >> there were a lot of questions. what do you mean you are in the military and what do you mean do you have a husband? do you have children and some of them dead and so yes they would definitely ask lots of questions. actually as a reporter in afghanistan you get lots of stairs because you are this third gender. you can talk to afghan women and you can also talk to men. so you have this or gender where you don't really fit into any one of them but it does let you move among roles. [inaudible]
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>> i think the truth is we have not been fully paying attention to what people in uniform does on behalf of the united states in the war spot for the united states. it's been a very long war and people have buried as he lives in all of that plays out in reporters who are tired, people who are tired servicemembers who now get used to people having no engagement with a war that they have just come back from fighting and i really wanted this book to be a reminder of the people and what we ask of them in america today day in, day out in this case night in, night out and to remind us of what we are requiring of people who served this country who have now been on so many deployments deployment that their families are almost used to it.


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