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tv   Gayle Lemmon on Ashleys War  CSPAN  May 25, 2015 7:15pm-7:55pm EDT

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et through about 10 pages, 20 pages a day because i find it as mating and i think there is a secret sauce there in the rules. if you can understand the rules and then i think you can get more done in congress. a lot of times you see people in the speaker's chair. they are being handed written notes and that's the parliamentarian telling them what's in order to say. when you're working from the floor you are working sometimes against the parliamentarian. you might be working with him and if you can compose music instead of just reading music in other words if you understand the rules and you can formulate motion in the proper order than then i think that gives you some influence that you otherwise wouldn't have. it keeps you from looking stupid too. >> booktv wants to know what you are reading this summer. tweet us your answer booktv or you can post it on our facebook page
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next up five talks about the special operations command's cultural support teams. 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 ferry 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 so know that you are on camera. so when we go out for the q&a we will have a mic around to capture your questions for
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c-span. but we are very honored tonight to welcome author and journalist gayle tzemach lemmon a senior fellow at the council of foreign relations as well as a contributor to the atlantic defense fund where she reports regularly 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 afghan women under taliban rule. she's here tonight to talk about her latest book already garnering lots of national attention and praise called "ashley's war"." the book that looks at the all but unknown history and i think ultimately the continuing legacies of a special all women pilot program known as the cultural support team to putting women on the battlefield alongside other special ops teams to give access to afghan women. her reporting bring stories to life in particular that the are first to attend ashlee wife for whom the book is titled
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illustrating not only the valor of these women and their bravery but incredible courage and her desire to fight for their country so please join me in a very warm welcome for gayle tzemach lemmon. [applause] >> it's so nice to be here with all of you and of course i have love c-span since i was 10 years old and it's very exciting to c-span is here. we will keep it pretty informal. i will talk for 15 minutes and we can use the rest for q&a. the story began when i was hosting an event in 2012 at the council on foreign relations and i was asking somebody about a combat story. she said it's just like the first lieutenant who lost her life on the battlefield in afghanistan on the special operation night mission and what? she said yeah there was this lieutenant who was out there and
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she was on a night raid alongside ranger regiment special operations team. if you look at her obituary at actually says that she's a member of the north carolina national guard but if you keep reading it tells you the story of what she was actually doing the night she died. she was part of the special operations team. i said, how is that possible? the combat ban is still on. i certainly knew afghanistan from the privilege of writing but i had never known that women were out there with 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 do we have no idea that women were out there seeing the kind of combat that the united states military sees while the combat ban was
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still officially in place. if you came in afghanistan you would know there were a lot of women that you would see on airplanes or on patrol but he didn't necessarily know what was it was 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. i called up bob and david white in ohio and i called them and i said you don't know me but you cannot get everything i have 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 has been 18 months since she had given her life for the united states. i think they had always hoped that someone would call because every family who loses a child in the war will tell you the biggest fear is that your child is forgotten.
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so i went out to see them and the first thing that struck me is still something i think about every time i think about the story was the sign that was in the corner written on a piece of torn off notebook paper like some of you carry everyday to school and it says you are my motivation in all block letters. what i quickly realized was it was not that had made her so extraordinary and special it was her life. back led to two years of hundreds and hundreds of hours of interviews and a lot of very bad gas station coffee cups filled with coffee made hazelnut or french vanilla and a lot of expressed night stays around the country trying to find the answers to those three questions. i spent a lot of time with some of the most senior people in special operations community and some of the most battle tested men of special operations and of
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course this incredible cast of women. at the heart of it this is a story of friendship. this is the story of courage and the story of love only on the battlefield that no one else will ever understand that the people who serve alongside you. it just so that you could only talk to half the population because it is a conservative traditional country where male soldiers could never speak to women.
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admiral olson who was a first navy said we need to get more knowledge out there. we are leaving knowledge behind and there's information we don't know aut d he has this idea about pnn yang of warfare and he jokingly said a lot of people were waiting for the next commander to come in but then the head of joint specializations comes in with an actual request for his rangers and said we need women out here. so from those two men and general motors on a bunch of others who had overtime really come to believe that they were not getting everything out of the information that they could have and leaving a security gap came the idea for what became known as the cultural support team which is incredibly benign name for an actually
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groundbreaking contact that you need women to do the kinds of operations that the united states military was seeing at the time. so female soldiers become part of history. joint special operations on the battlefield in afghanistan and almost all of them in the early pages of this book have the same reaction. this is way too good to be true. these were people who had always wanted to test themselves. the only thing they hunkered for was to put themselves in the most challenging situations to face the biggest test that they could do a mission that mattered and to serve alongside men. all of a sudden they had their chance even though officially they were not permitted in combat. admiral olson comes up with these cultural support teams. they are attached to any special operations team that could be
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rangers or seals or special forces as some of you may remember and that was the idea. i think a lot of people remember more than 200 women apply for the program. about 100 come to this not very nice hotel called a landmark in on fort bragg. that was not real posh the way you san franciscans think of hotel so they go to landmark in and they had the breakfast room where you had to waffle maker and the metal machine and you look around and you never have had a moment where you have been around women as hungary, as driven and is really committed to doing something that matters and they all have this kind of moment where they are so used to being the only giraffe at the zoo that they didn't know there were more people like them. and so what followed from that
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motel experience is what is called 100 hours of hell. that was the test that they had to face because 110 women come. 100 hours of hell was a series of mental tests and physical test climbing 30-foot walls figuring out puzzles, doing a lot of things with very incomplete information and then doing things like putting 35 or 40 pounds on your back sometimes more and walking sometimes marching for in a distance. that could be two miles or in this case it was more like nine 10 or 11 miles. so it's not made for everybody but with each of these women have was the same experience. almost all of them have forwarded a note to them saying i would never do this but this looks like was perfectly made for you. and so you have this assembly of women. the instructors had never seen anything like it they had never seen much of anything like it and they assembled in these towns and immediately realized
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that even though they are competing with one another they all want to be grayed out there because they know everything is going to be watched by everybody who comes after work, every female who gets a chance to come afterwards will depend on whether they succeed or not. the pilot program before them and they were the first in the army guard and 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 have served five, six, seven eight 10, 11 or 12 combat deployments in this last decade of war. and they were this incredible team of characters. they were real people but i could never have made them up if i tried. a west point track star who never wore socks. she ran a never wore socks when
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she ran and that causes a stir when you'll see in the early pages of this book. her boots smelled so badly that her teammates could not take it in action at the demented trash bag and put them in the bathtub the first moment before she then introduces herself. we have another gal who is 5 feet 3 inches on a good day who played high school book i'll all for years and you actually wanted to stop and join the glee club after year one so because people told her she couldn't play football she felt like she had to keep going. then you have another gal who basically look like heidi and who has a kid love to shoot stuff and didn't know she couldn't be an infantry and how much later. she was one of those people who wanted to test herself all the time and she ends up going to bosnia as an intel officer
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coming back deciding to become an actual officer and she helps the fbi in pennsylvania. and then there was a gal who won a bronze star medal for valor and another who was on her fourth deployment. she had served in iraq and afghanistan three times and you had first lieutenant actually quite -- ashley white who is blonde as a ranger trainer would later say looks like a disneyland grieder. this megatron quiet gal who had these smiles that would light up the room and would never talk to about what she had done but was one of those people who would get up shuffle away and we say that she had done absolutely nothing remarkable. she really was from everybody you talk to the best and i think
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quite honestly the best of american characters. she had grown up in a beautiful small town in ohio who always took the hard right over the easy wrong for you worked hard and never looked for shortcuts, were you always ask how other people were doing before you worried about yourself. she was one of the gals who they would work out three times a day across that mostly and during lunch they worked out so when they would come back she would take fruit chews and granola and pass them out as they are sweating through the course. if you forgot your food are you needed something she was a the one you call because she always had it ready and she would never make you feel foolish for having forgot something. so of 20 of the most fit get chosen to go to the ranger regiment and these guys have been continuously deployed since
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9/11. these are some of the most tested special operations people and they had never taken females out with them on a mission. they said they were going to do this for the first time they would have to keep up with the men who could in the heat of battle take off their helmets and show they were female which is why the amber character in the book would always wear braids. she would take her home and off and it was immediately apparent under all this body armor and a pistol and a rifle and a set of goggles that she was in fact -- goes on these missions what would happen was they would all go on a helicopter in the dead of night go to the compound and look for the person that they were looking for and the women and children in the middle of all of this would be ushered away from everything else that was going on and the women would
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talk to them. lo and behold they would have experiences where sometimes the women would say hey the guy you are looking for is two houses over which certainly made things a lot easier for the men alongside whom these women were serving. one night one of the gals early on by and the woman sitting on an ak-47. another time early on a woman had been given a suicide vest. it wasn't like these women were part of the dash so really quickly these women who had just been bought from their date jobs in the regular units were out there in the battle at night doing 10, 11 or 12 deployments the equivalent of three or four years of war and they were proving themselves. what they found was of course it was hard to be the only female with guys who had never worked with women that they were open-minded because all they
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wanted to do was accomplish the mission and get home. those gals got out there and pay their rent and showed their value that was all they asked for in one of the ranger trainers spent one week with the rangers before they go out and he has this moment at the very beginning where he looks around and they say hey you have got to go train girls. i mean what kind of an assignment as back? at the end of his eight days with them he said these women may end up being tuskegee airmen. i don't want to use language in the book around children but read it chapter chapter and you'll see there's a lot of colorful language where he has these moments. he said they are serious. they mean it. they want to be here and if they want to be here and they can do
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it i'm sure as heck going to teach them everything i know. what he found was that they had heart, they had grit and when he asked them to climb a rope up and down with their body armor on it was hard for a lot of them and then comes ashley white he goes up and down three times using only her arms and then apologizes because he had taught them to do it using the harms of legs. if you guys do out there what you do here you will be fine because you care and you want to be there and those guys understand that all they want to do is get the job done. so all of this goes on and they start to prove themselves. they are also starting to get there and then tragedy strikes. first lieutenant ashley white is
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on a mission just like every other night with her interpreter who was a gal from orange county and chapter 11 is all hers. she is one of those people who thought she was going to do a humanitarian mission leaves orange county to do it, realizes 36 hours after she got there that in fact she was going to be translating for bagram detainees 12 hours on, 12 hours off in afghanistan. she is asked if she wants to be part of the team and that was her derisive way of saying the new cultural support kind of thing and he wants to go out on a mission sex she had absolutely no training for that and within two weeks of saying yes she finds herself on helicopters running with us her teammates
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would say not very good here. look like you to come from the korean war and she's out there on the battlefield trying to be the ears and eyes of the women with whom she is working. one time one of the gals said you really need to keep up. she was like girl i was in orange county at the mall two years ago wearing my -- i'm doing the best they can out here here. she has this very human and very relatable moment and they have some money but one of the things that stands out for a lot of people is when nadia of the interpreter is first waiting for ashley and her teammates to come and in the ladies room. they come out and one gal is putting on her eyebrows and another is doing her eyeliner. she goes oh my god your wear makeup, i'm so glad.
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her teammates said obviously that's not what we do on a regular basis but i don't feel like myself when i go to work. i'm really blonde and i look kind of sick if i don't have my eyebrows done. they have this moment where they realize that it's okay. you can be fierce and you can be fit and you can go out there and do your job well. that makes them even more down to one another. ashley called her interpreter one night and said your interpreter is not even clear to go out on this mission because she had sprained her wrist a couple of weeks back and she was not officially declared by the doctor to go back on mission but because it's ashley and it's because it's ashley who asks her she says yes because the she told me before situation were i were on -- i would have said
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yes. so many people used us where they wanted to get their money out of us as translators and ashley they always treated us like we were people first and we were getting our job done. so ashley calls her and they go out on a mission. everything is fine and within a fairly short period of time a daisy chain ied is set off which means you step on it one place and explodes in another and lieutenant ashley white is injured very seriously along with private first class jennifer horn on first appointment and christopher -- and as she passes the dash there's a moment in addition to
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a huge amount of grief. that moment of crisis all the women say are they going to shut us down? is america finally going to realize that there were women out there and the fact that a female guide alongside rangers going to explode in the headlines and is the public going to be able to take it and we are all going to be sent back home. the truth is they were hardly notice. the special operations community does notice and immediately went to ashley's ohio town and her parents who had not really known what she was doing because she tried to protect them, for the first time they learned about what it was she was doing. they hear the words new and groundbreaking and historic and special operations in dover air force base.
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the head of army special operations command called and said make no mistake about it these women are warriors. they have set a new standard in on what it means to be a woman and the united states army and ashley you will not be forgotten. the next day at her funeral the regiment speaks and says teddy roosevelt said it speaks to the fallen female soldier and remember your ranger brother shall be out there in your honor every night. so all this is happening but nobody in afghanistan has a sense of it and in fact one of the historians comes and says do you guys want to keep going to tristan's the west point but the shoes who would become ashley's replacement in kandahar. and he said you know some people said he wants to keep going and
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she said nothing would dishonor her memory more than stopping this mission. i can promise you that i won't die any more than any of the rest of us. we didn't sign up to give our lives but they did sign up to serve. and 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 face and -- think that any job will ever measure up to what they did that year alongside special operations. they love the job they love the mission they consider it a privilege to be doing the work because it was at the heart of a mission that mattered serving with the best of the best. it was all that they have ever asked for and in fact one of the gals another member of the team who have this unique distinction
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of being a sorority sister an rotc cadet and a women's studies major, she has this -- i hate being a girl because everything noble is out of reach. all of a sudden things that they dreamed of doing they said and they have incredible leads to the officer in charge was another gal who had been a track star which seemed seem to be common and a high school teacher. when i asked her to be the officer in charge he said absolutely and she was one of those leaders who exercised the whole person. she never saw people as just working for her. one gal one day wanted a different kind of breakfast cereal and it was there the next week. another girl had a guy who kept trying to come and have coffee with her on base. she said i'm here to go to work. i'm not here to go and have coffee with you.
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one call to her officer in charge and she never heard from him again and she still has no idea today what happened. so this team was found not just by the team they lost but the leadership they shared a love of mission that transcended the fact that they weren't all different parts of that -- afghanistan usually on their own. one final story i want to tell you which is at the very start of the process at the end of my first set of interviews with mr. and mrs. white i asked them what would it mean to you of the little girl said she wanted to be like ashley and mrs. white who is a teacher's aide and a school bus driver and have a catering business on the side looked at me and said it would mean everything.
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because a huge part of ashley are the women that she left us and those friends that will always be part of our family. and at her legacy if america knows them than maybe ashley will have left us more than we thought at the beginning. and she told me a story at ashley's funeral where woman comes up to her with her daughter and she still doesn't know who she was to this day. she said mrs. white, i brought my daughter here today because i wanted her to know what a hero was. and i wanted her to know that heroes could be women too. and i think that is the legacy that the team leads us. we can talk about policy and all these women were recognized by
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special operations command when the combat ban was lifted in january of 2013. in june of 20131 of the special operations leader says those young girls, i was so impressed with their fitness and the truth is i think they may well have laid the foundation for integration. so all of these conversations are still going on and by january 2015 we will know whether women will be able to become rangers in their own right. we have had a lot of conversations about what women could and should do in very few acknowledge men's of what they have actually done. so this is a team story, a story of friendship, a story of character and action and a story about the power of purpose and i hope you will enjoy the book. thank you. [applause]
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questions? >> do you know there are teams in places that aren't official war zones? >> east teams come i think there are lots of things we don't know happening all the time but these teams are winding down with the war in afghanistan winding down but there are of course always things that are happening at officially these are winding down with the end of the war in afghanistan. there's a moment in the epilogue you will see where they come back and they really change their lives. they have these friends that they are going to love forever and the truth is the first thing that struck me in the round with a bunch of these women was that they are each other's family. they step on each other sentences, they ruined each other's jokes, they are each
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other's career counselors and baby shower hose. they are 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 at these teams and quite honestly we never had a chance to see that among women because there haven't been these all-female teams created. >> if there's anything else you want to cover this is also a love story. ashley had been with the kent state rotc -- you just finished his deployment in afghanistan and he really did not initially want her to go. she tells him what she wants to do and you will see in chapter two and three and she said this
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is what i want to do. he says no way. i don't think you know what you you're getting into. those guys are messed that day that a serious combat you are talking about. that's why people asked him to do the job and she says that's what i want to do. i want to be the best people that are out there. you said yourself that the best guys and he acknowledge is that any of the moment where eventually he calls his dad and he says what do i do? he never wanted to keep her from being the best that she could be and in fact even her mother had said he was the one that made her sparkle. you would never see her smile and photos before she met him and afterward she always smiled and they deeply, deeply love one another. but because his dad and his dad says you guys have forever and you should never be the one to hold her back. you were right because he never wanted her to regret the one
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that's. what if she hadn't tested herself? because she was this kind of wild mix of martha stewart and g.i. jane. she was somebody to love making dinner for her husband and loved putting 40 pounds of weight on her back marching for 12 miles and doing 20 or 30 pull-ups from the dead hang and climbing the rope as you look at her cross that workout for the day and lunches and a number of other things and 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 afghan he women were the women i assume the women first thought they were men and
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were they surprised? >> shots. >> i'm assuming because they were women they were able to build a level of trust a lot more easily. >> there was this moment where you take off your helmet and oh my gosh underneath all of that is a female and he put on a headscarf and you have a conversation. this is war, right? it was a moment of connection where they would talk to one another and in fact women would keep them away from foreign men and keep them away from everything else was happening and they would have conversations. that's why they 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 moment of conversation of an exchange of information with a woman than you were certainly with a guy. as one of the guys said we look like martians that had landed in
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these people's living rooms. >> these women were sort of doing the very things the local women couldn't do. were they also i guess 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 did so yes they would definitely ask lots of questions and as a reporter in afghanistan you get lots of stairs because you are the third gender, because you can talk to afghan women. you can also talk to men and so you have this third gender where you don't fit into any one of them.
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[inaudible] >> i think the truth is that we have not been fully paying attention to what the half a% in uniform does on behalf of the united states in the wars fought for america. it's been a very long war. people have very busy lives and 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 the 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 and in this case might end and night out and to
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remind us what we are requiring of people who serve this country who have now been on so many deployments that their families are almost used to it. actually bathrooms and a whole new ranch not just for the military but for society. how many of our used to seeing a wife of a man serving in uniform and special operations? so i think their story is that a part of living history that really does show some of the things we care about in the things we don't care about. and it's funny because early on i told somebody who was working on the story and it happened to be a special operations story about soldiers and they said is it about rape or ptsd which is another thing that shocked me because she realized the there
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are very important narratives but they leave out valor and they do not fully take in everything women have been doing on the battlefield this past 13 years of war. are there any other questions? thank you also much for being here. [applause] [applause] >> booktv recently visited capitol hill to ask members of


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