Book Of The Week: Ashley’s War

Around 2009, Admiral Eric Olson decided that a change was needed to obtain more meaningful and detailed intelligence about people, culture, and language. As a U.S. Special Operations Commander, he spent years studying the battlefield that was constantly changing in Afghanistan. He realized there was a need to get access to half of the population that was out of reach for the soldiers: women.

Historically, in the Afghan culture, women are kept separate from men as a way of preserving the honor of Afghan women. 

Although things are different for millions of Afghan women today, in the remote areas where most of the battles were being fought, it was seen as disrespectful to women and men if the male soldiers engaged in any way with Afghan women.

Admiral Olson came up with the idea to improve counterinsurgency measures by creating the Cultural Support Team (CST). CSTs would be all–female teams who would be able to engage with Afghan women and children for questioning or searching.

“Ashley’s War,“ written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is the story of First Lieutenant Ashley White and her female comrades’ journey to the battlefield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2011.


Ashley White was serving with the National Guard as a medic when she learned about the CST program. Although she was serving her country dutifully, she felt it was her responsibility to do at least one deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan (one of the two wars America was fighting). 

Ashley was determined to apply for the CST program not only to get her deployment out of the way but also because she was ready to compete with the best women the Army had to offer.

About six months before deployment to Afghanistan, Ashley embarked on the first all–Army assessment and selection process for the CST program. The women in the selection process were the best of the best of the National Guard and Military Police. Each of these individuals had incredible strength, endurance, and passion for serving their country.

Ashley may have lacked confidence at the beginning about whether or not she fit in with the other women, but by the time she deployed, things had turned around for her. 


By August 2011, Ashley, Lane Mason, and interpreter Nadia found themselves on their first mission in Kandahar. Their day would begin with a helicopter ride after the sun went down and would continue until dawn. They were gathering intelligence and searching for insurgents. 

Going out on nightly missions would become a typical day’s work for the next year or so for this group of women working alongside Army Rangers.

The goal of the CSTs was to gather information from women while the male soldiers searched the premises and questioned the Afghan men.

Danger lurked with hidden IEDs and insurgents waiting to open fire on the Americans.

Ashley and her comrades bonded through the danger of what they were facing and their determination to defy any limits. Many lives were saved because of Ashley and the rest of the CSTs. 

Final Thoughts 

“Ashley’s War“ is one of those books that I didn’t want to end, especially so tragically.

If these women don’t inspire you to do something that makes a difference, I don’t know what will.

I have the utmost respect for the women of the CST programs and all of the military service programs. If my cards were dealt differently, I would have considered serving in one of the armed forces. 

I hope you get a chance to check out this book! Thanks for reading this post today! 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases of books through this site. 

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