Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
CFR Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon joins CFR Senior Vice President and Director of Studies James M. Lindsay to introduce her new book, Ashley's War The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Lemmon begins by describing the political context in which she wrote the book: the United States was well into its campaign in Afghanistan and U.S. commanders were exploring new means to manage varied operational challenges on battlefield. One such initiative, Lemmon notes, was to incorporate women into cultural support teams on sensitive special forces missions in Afghanistan. Over the course of the conversation, Lemmon discusses her experience writing and researching the story, the U.S. military's integration of women in combat roles, and the role of women in military settings more generally.
The CFR Fellows’ Book Launch series highlights new books by CFR fellows. It includes a discussion with the author, cocktail reception, and book signing.
LINDSAY: Good evening, everyone. On behalf of Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, I want to welcome all of you to this evening's event. And let me thank all of you for coming here tonight. I'm Jim Lindsay. I'm the director of studies here at the Council on Foreign Relation. I also want to welcome everyone who is joining us via the Internet, as we live stream tonight's event. You're in for a real treat. And the reason you're in for a real treat is because of our guest of honor, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who I have the great honor and privilege of introducing to all of you.
Gayle is a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. If you have not read it I strongly urge you to read it. It is beautifully written. It is a wonderful recounting of the story of a young woman in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule who used her entrepreneurial skills to help both her family and her community. And it's a - it's a wonderfully-told story.
But we're not here tonight to talk about the Dressmaker of Khair Khana. We're here to talk about Gayle's newest book, Ashley's War. And I'll hold it up here. It is Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. So everyone please join me in welcoming...
LINDSAY: ...reaction. Wow. It is wonderfully written, it is powerful, it is inspiring. It's also heartbreaking. It's a story of hope achievement. It's also a story of loss. And I guess what I want to start, in our conversation tonight - it's with your subtitle. Your subtitle is The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. The events you tell in the book take place in roughly 2010-2011. But as best I know, until January 2013 U.S. policy was that women could not serve in ground combat units. So how do we have a team of female soldiers on the special ops battlefield?
TZEMACH LEMMON: I think the realities of war head long past the realities of regulation by the time that 2010 and 2011 rolled around. So you were now in your 10th year of America's longest war and you really had special operations community leaders who were forward-thinking and looking for solutions. And the solution for this particular question they were facing was, how do we access all of the people that we need to reach. And the truth was—and in a conservative and traditional country like Afghanistan male soldiers could not talk to women. And so if you were going to talk to the women of the house you were going to need American women, American women in uniform, to talk to, to reach, to access that population.
And so in 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, who was then head of Special Operations Command, had this idea. And he would talk about the yin and yang of warfare and all of this. And everybody said, "Oh, you know"—as he said, you sort of slow-rolled what he was saying. But then came, a few months later, a request for forces from Admiral McCraven, then heading all of special operations, saying we need women out here on the battlefield. And that turned what was an idea into a program. And so while women could not be part of units whose primary mission was ground combat, they could be attached to almost any unit. And that meant that women could be attached to special operations teams that were seeing the kind of combat seen by fewer than 5 percent of the United States military. And that's how it happened.
LINDSAY: OK, so we—we get this call to create cultural support teams. Tell us a little bit about the process of getting from the idea of having women who can go and assist with special operation force. And we're talking Army Rangers and Green Berets. How do we find the women to join these cultural support teams?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, so there was a call sent out and a poster that was put up. And it said "Female Soldiers Become Part of History. Join Special Operations On This Battlefield in Afghanistan." And it became entirely self-selecting in a way that I think the men who want to be part of Special Operations community also were entirely self-selecting. Right? It was the people who wanted the biggest challenge, to face the biggest test, who wanted to be in the center of what was now America's longest war at the heart of that fight. And who wanted to be serving with the best of the best.
LINDSAY: You called them "the finest, the fittest, the fiercest."
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. And I think that call went out and almost everybody who's in those pages in the book had that e-mail forwarded to them probably 17 times by people say, "This looks like you. No way I would do it, but this is definitely for you." And—and sure enough, that is the answer that they call gave. That yes, this is something that I had always wanted. You know, one of the women in these pages had, you know, said that when she was 17 she hated being a girl because everything noble was out of reach. And she saw this poster, and she was like, "Hell, yes, this is my ticket out of Alaska. I am in," you know. And she started writing like essays that weren't even required, right? Because she was like there's no way anybody's going to keep me out of this program.
And that—you know, that's who these people were. You could have chosen in a room full of 200, they would have been the people you would have said, oh, it's the most obvious, right, that those are the people. And as Admiral Olson said, right, he would always consider people in the special operations community who excelled physically fit problem-solvers. And they fit that bill.
LINDSAY: OK. OK, so they—they convene in North Carolina.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. So more than 200 people sent in their paperwork, about 100 people get through all of the fitness and all of their requirements to show up. And about half of that number—so you get to—down to about 55 to 60 in the final team chosen; the first all-Army, all-Guard reserve, a team chosen to go out—go in day in, day out, night in, night out (inaudible)...
LINDSAY: But—but to get from that 200 to be that final 50, they did a lot of grueling...
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right.
LINDSAY: ... physical and mental exercises.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right.
LINDSAY: It was one (inaudible)...
TZEMACH LEMMON: A hundred hours of hell...
LINDSAY: A hundred hours of hell.
TZEMACH LEMMON: ... was the name of the selection—the assessment and selection that they faced at Fort Bragg. And, you know, that—those 5 days tested them mentally with puzzles, with, you know, how do you defuse a bomb blindfolded, those kinds of things. Then there were the physical tests, right? Climbing a 30-foot wall, buddy carries—you know, could you carry your buddy off the field. And then the famous—dreaded for everybody who served in the military—unknown distance marches, where you put, you know, 40-plus pounds—35- to 40-plus pounds on your back. you get up at 2 a.m. and at, you know, 7 a.m. you're very likely still marching. And so it was for people who were tough enough to do that, mentally and physically, and who wanted it.
LINDSAY: So it was also being mentally tough...
TZEMACH LEMMON: Absolutely.
LINDSAY: ... as well as physically tough. I mean, it seems like many of the people you—you write about in the book were really very into fitness. You want to talk about crossfit.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes. Crossfit is a huge part of this story, yes. You know, these—once they were selected, they would do three workouts a day, most of these women. And, in fact, Ashley White, who—who is the—the—the story is named after, she was famous for, after the second day—second workout of the day—she would bring granola, then fruit chews and would pass them out. So they would all be in class sweating because they'd just come from a workout, as their instructor was up at the front of the room, you know, passing around their lunch; granola and fruit treats and such. Because, you know, that's how they were gonna prove themselves, that's how they weren't going to be a liability out there with Rangers and special forces, you know, making sure that they could keep up.
LINDSAY: OK, so Ashley's at the core of your story. Tell us a little about—a little bit about her.
TZEMACH LEMMON: You know, I think Ashley White was that very rare mix of, you know, half Martha Stewart half GI Joe. You know, somebody who loved, you know, to make dinner for her husband, who was an Army captain. They were ROTC sweethearts. He really had pushed her to become who she was. He had always said, you know, don't hold back, don't, you know, be less than you are. And, you know, if you think something's wrong, say it. And—because she was on the quieter side. She was never not strong and not fierce, but she was much more reserved than a lot of people.
And so he really pushed her to become herself. And so she loved making dinner for him, and then she loved, you know, putting 40 pounds on her back and going to march for 11 miles and going to the gym doing, you know, 30 pull-ups from a dead hang, you know, climbing ropes, 15-foot ropes.
LINDSAY: Can you say that again? How—how many pull-ups from a dead hang?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Twenty-five to 30 pull-ups from—this is before...
LINDSAY: For people who haven't tried to pull-up from a dead hang, let me just say if you can do one I'm impressed.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. And—and that's who—who she was. And—and, you know, the White family is—they are just really genuinely beautiful people. Like they represent the best of American values at a time when we're searching for...
LINDSAY: Small-town Ohio, Marlboro, so I guess southeast of Akron, Ohio?
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. About 20 minutes from Akron. And what was so special about them was, they had always taught their children to push themselves hard, right? Never take the easy wrong over the hard right. And that was who they were. That was—they trained, they taught—they have twin daughters, Ashley and her twin sister Britney and their older son. And they treated all of them the same, they pushed them all equally hard. And, you know, they would never let any of them settle for not being their own personal best.
LINDSAY: So Ashley is one of the 50 women who qualify for the culturally support team.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right, that's right.
LINDSAY: And this whole program is really being thrown together at a rush, and they're sort of learning as they're doing. They're not dispatched, they go to Afghanistan.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yeah.
LINDSAY: They all—tell us a little bit of what they encounter when they get there. Because this is sort of they're going into a world in which women previously had not been part of.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. So they're—Ashley and the people who are in this book, the soldiers who are in this book, are 20 chosen from this 55 or 60 who were chosen for the direct action mission. So they took sort of the fittest and the (inaudible) and they put them all out alongside...
LINDSAY: Just to be clear (ph), what is direct action?
TZEMACH LEMMON: So that is on Ranger Regiment, 75th Ranger Regiment, Navy Seals, Army Special Forces. You know, doing some of the toughest missions that the United States has asked of its military. And so there was a real focus on finding the most fit and the most able of those women to go join that mission in particular, given its physicality and given the intensity of that very life-and-death, high-stakes warfare in which the American public...
LINDSAY: Could you just walk us through one of the missions?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Sure.
LINDSAY: What it might look like so people have a sense of what it—because culturally support team sounds rather banal, it sounds...
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right, exactly. It's a rather innocuous name for a ground-breaking concept. You know, and it's funny because I actually asked Admiral Olson and others, you know, how did that name come about. And the answer was really—it was the best of a bunch of really not very good alternatives. "Cultural" came from the fact that it was the culture that was demanding females who would just be out there. "Support" because we had to show that this was not a backdoor way to put women into frontline combat roles. And "team" because everything in Special Operations is a team. So that's how you got the name. And what was so fascinating about it was that once they go there it was—you know, one of the chapters I titled "Operation Fit In," right?
Because you get there, you are one of two women on a group—joining a group of men who really are among the most tested, most wanted, most elite of Army forces. And these guys have been continuously deployed since 9-11. Some of them were on the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th deployment. Which we, as a country, I think, have not even begun to reckon with/ what we have asked men and women in uniform, right? So there were guys there who had more or less spent 4 years, if you added together all of their deployments, at war. And all of a sudden you throw into this mix people who have—are on a different training schedule, who have spent 6 weeks training rather than your years in combat. And who, by the way, are female, right?
So you can imagine the very understandable skepticism that would greet them. And I think it is a testament to the fact that Ranger Regiment was built on being nimble and adaptive from its very history. That there was a level of I don't necessarily what you here, I don't even think this is a good idea, but you're—now you're part of my team, and this is very high-stakes warfare that we're engaging in.
LINDSAY: But you also in the book there are lots of male soldiers who are very supportive of this—of this whole concept.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Absolutely. And they went on to say no matter what—how I feel about you being here, you're now part of my team and you're with me. And then they would bring them into training and they would bring them in, you know, to—they'd take them to the range. And the truth was that a couple missions in, once they saw that these women were not a liability but were actually valued, right? I talked to one Ranger first sergeant who said, you know, he was then—he finished 13 deployments with the Ranger Regiment. And he said, "A job well done stands out." And those girls brought heart and they brought grit every single night.
And what they were doing—those women who were on the battlefield—was helping to find things that would help accomplish the mission and that would help the mission and save lives, right? You know, so you asked about the mission. You get on—you know, everybody would line up. You get on the helicopter, you run off the helicopter, you go to wherever the mission was right? You find or locate the compound where the insurgent was said to be living and then the Rangers would do their work. And when there were women and children in one place, they'd say, hey, (inaudible) it up here. And that was your marching order, to get up there and start assessing the women and children who were there.
And it's—obviously, you were talking to the women, right? And—and often times—you know, one night one woman was talking to a woman who was sitting right over an AK, right? Another night...
LINDSAY: "AK" is an AK-47 machine gun.
TZEMACH LEMMON: AK-47, right, right. So another night there was a woman who had been asked to put on a suicide vest that they found, right? Another night a woman said, you know, the guy you're looking for is two houses over, right? And—and so very quickly, when the women would come up, they would take their helmets off, they would show that they were female and that they were there to keep them away from...
LINDSAY: Because they're—they're fully dressed.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Absolutely.
LINDSAY: They're—they're in combat outfits.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right.
LINDSAY: They look indistinguishable, then...
TZEMACH LEMMON: You could not tell that they were women.
LINDSAY: They're carrying weapons.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. Until—right, there was a moment where they would take off their helmet, their hair would come down. You know, one wore braids because it was easier to get the helmet off and show she was female immediately. She looked a little bit like Heidi in the pictures. And, you know—but they had, you know, an M-9, they had weapons, they had their full gear. So you could imagine that it's very overwhelming. And then when you see it's a female, and she has a head scarf and she's talking to you, it does—would deescalate the situation, and they would start talking. And you would have very human contact. And often times, women wanted to tell them what was going on.
LINDSAY: But not all women did. I mean, that's one of the stories you tell is when they do not want to say what had happened.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. There was a story where one of the soldiers has asked, you know, is everybody out, who's inside? And as it turns out, the woman says, "Yes, everybody is out." And it turns out, they're not, right? There's a barricaded shooter inside. And when they go in, two Afghan National Army forces are shot. One dies. And, you know, the soldier had this moment of, you know, what—what could I have seen, what could I have done? And it was really a—a moment for her that—that would always stay with her. That she thought, you know, was there anything I could've seen in that moment that could have saved a life.
LINDSAY: As I said, it—it's a story of hope and accomplishment. It's also a story of loss. I don't think I'm giving a spoiler out here to say that Ashley White is killed by an improvised explosive device in service. What were the consequences of her death?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. So Ashley, First Lieutenant Ashley White, became the first member of this team killed in action. She died alongside Sergeant First Class Christopher Demay (ph), who was a Ranger on his 14th deployment, and Private First Class Christopher Horns (ph), who was on his first. And her death really threw into the very public eye a program that had built for the shadows. It was not a secret. There was a recruiting, you know, Web site. But, you know, the combat ban was still in place so it was a very fine line everybody was walking to get soldiers the capabilities they needed, which were in the—in the faces of female soldiers.
So there was a real fear immediately among the female soldiers who were part of this team who were grieving over the loss of this really beloved teammate. I mean, people would come, over and over, and say she was the best of us. She was the kindest person, the person who never needed to tell you what she would—could do. She would just get up there and do it, and kind of shuffle away as if it were nothing. And she made you be better. And so her loss is not only a very personal loss, but there was a great amount of professional fear that the American public would say, "Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. What happened that a female died on a night operation alongside two members of Special Operations? What—wait, we don't know anything about that."
And they would demand that the program be shut down. And, in fact, even the very night of Ashley's death—that one of the soldiers asked the other, you know, "Do you think they're gonna shut us down?" And they're—you know, this is—Ashley's teammate answers, "I—I just don't know." And the truth was, by the 10th year of America's longest war most people didn't notice. You know, more than a hundred women had already died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this was a—a death that was noted, but certainly didn't stop anybody from continuing on what they'd been doing the day before.
LINDSAY: The other members of the team finished their deployment on the cultural support team.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes. Yes and, in fact, one of the historians says do you want us to—do you want to stop doing this mission? And to a one, they said nothing would dishonor her memory more.
LINDSAY: But not only did they not want to stop the mission, they wanted to do another tour.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Absolutely.
LINDSAY: But they weren't allowed to do another tour. So where do we stand with cultural support teams now? Because we're still in Afghanistan. We're drawing down troops, but there are still troops there.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. That program is no longer recruiting members. The program is—it's winding down as the war in Afghanistan winds down. But I think there's no question about what these womens' role in some of the decisions that came later. This is now 2011 when they first deployed. January 2013, as you said, then-Secretary Panetta announces the listing of the combat span and says, you know, if women are willing to put their lives on the line every single night it's kind of hard to argue that—that some roles should be closed. And in June 2013, one of the Special Operations leaders says in a press conference, you know, those women—those soldiers, actually White, all of her teammates—really did a—a tremendous job out there, and they may well have laid the groundwork for ultimate integration.
And, you know, again, few people in America noticed. But there's no question the special operations community was watching very closely as to what happened. And that by January 1, 2016 every job must open to women or a reason given to the secretary of defense in care of the Joint Chiefs as to why it wouldn't be.
LINDSAY: And—and they can overrule that decision.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes, yes.
LINDSAY: What I want to do now is bring everybody else in the room into the conversation. So I'm gonna ask anybody who wants to ask a question, raise your hand. We're gonna bring a microphone over, I believe. We will ask, in typical Council on Foreign Relations fashion, to stand up, identify yourself, and ask a question. Preferably a shorter question so we can get everybody in the room into the conversation.
And we'll go over here to Whitney (ph).
QUESTION: I work at the Arkan (ph) Group. I write for foreign policy. Thank you for a—a great presentation. I'm looking forward to the book. It sounds like there was a little bit of pushback but, ultimately, some significant acceptance of these womens' roles in this particular unit and in these particular missions. I'm interested in what you predict the reaction will be when the combat ban is, in fact, lifted and these women aren't just serving to search Afghan women or engage with them, but are actually being integrated as Seals, Green Berets and Rangers, and how the special operations community will react to them actually doing their jobs as opposed to just speaking to women. Not that that's not a—a laudable role.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. And anything (ph)—this thing that I was fascinated about by this story is that I didn't know any of this and I cover—I've spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, you know, I—I've watched that war pretty closely. This was not a story about what women could do, should do or are capable of. It's a story of what they have done. And for all of these people it was not about policy or politics, it was about purpose. And that stood out in every single conversation. I think the special—right now, we're seeing—and you are following every single day, probably more closely than anyone in this room—what are the conversations going on.
We will know by January 1, 2016 whether women will be allowed to vie for those spots. I was at Fort Benning last week at the opening of armored Ranger school. And one thing that was so fascinating about that is that I was with, you know, retired sergeant majors, retired very senior officers, who were all there basically just to assure everyone that there was no dumbing down of the standard for Army Ranger school simply because women were entering it. And, in fact, the women who were part of that program were the first ones to say nothing could harm women more than to lower the standard and to be seen as being giving special treatment to female soldiers.
So I think all of that is going—this sort of a very volatile and fascinating mix of conversation in policy will meet soldiers and servicemembers' reality in the next 6 months and I will be watching like everybody else.
LINDSAY: If you could—if we could ask you to wait for the microphone we'd greatly appreciate it.
QUESTION: Gayle, what's your assessment of the internal dynamic as you get closer to that date? That is there a—there have to be unseen—unseen resistance, unseen dialogues that—and I'm just wondering what your—your perspective on that is and—and how you think—whether you think that there will be a—this will be yesterday's news after it's been the case for a couple of months. Or whether this will really be a long—much longer-term integration with any more kind of battles ahead.
TZEMACH LEMMON: I think the conversations are going on right now, and there are a lot of them. There's a Rand study that's expected in the next several months. There is a set of recommendations due, and there are going to be a lot of very public—there's gonna be a lot of very public scrutiny about what happens at Ranger school. And so, you know, does anybody make it. There are 20 females entering for the first time. Now, that's not a special operations school, it's a leadership school. But there's no question that that is going to be watched very carefully. I think change is difficult no matter what kind of organization you're in.
I do think that there are a lot of—I mean, when I talked to—you know, talked to some of the Ranger trainers, right? These were guys who had done 13 and 14 deployments, who had—who had been in (inaudible) selection in—during 9-11. And when they said you have to go train women, they're like, you know. And they have become the most supportive backers of this program. And, in fact, you know, one of them at the end of it said that, you know, he's—women are gonna be our moneymakers. They're gonna approve this program because they want it more, that every have more heart, they are harder on themselves, they have more grit than, you know, almost anybody else that I have trained.
So I think you start to see real champions from within that community. And I think it's gonna be a—an internal and external conversation that's gonna go on, sometimes with controversy, as this topic seems to generate a lot of. But I think in the end of the day, you know, there will be a policy that will prevail and I think that you'll have people who will champion it from inside.
LINDSAY: Yes, sir?
QUESTION: (OFF-MIC) Burkot (ph) newspaper in Denmark. So what's the difference between what these women did in the cultural support teams and the CIMIC teams that were attached to the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, where there were women, as well? They did the same thing. So what we're saying is that basically they were attached to Special Forces and that's the big difference between what they were doing in CIMIC.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's right. I mean, I think it was—the biggest was the kind of combat that they were seeing and the kind of missions and the kind of teams to which they were attached. There had been female engagements. In fact, the first chapter of the book is really about the history of how these women ended up on the battlefield, you know, and which goes through the Lioness program in Iraq leading to the female engagement team in Afghanistan that the Marines did. There's McChrystal guidance that comes in 2010, I think it was, talking about some of the, you know, we need women as part of counterinsurgency, an ISAF memo.
But this was the first time that the special operations community had brought women—had especially selected and trained this group of women specifically for those kinds of, I think, the—the most intense combat with those kinds of operations.
QUESTION: They were in combat, as such? I mean, I just (OFF-MIC). I mean, what's the difference here besides the fact that—what you already pointed out in terms of what they did? Obviously, the CIMIC groups, where women soldiers were part—were not there to actually be in combat. They were there to support these teams in opening up avenues of conversations with women and children, as well. And then in the—in the civil reconstruction phase.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's correct.
TZEMACH LEMMON: The difference was, these were on night operations and these were—these were on the night missions that, as you know, Karzai had had much—many conversations about this. That was the difference. The difference was what the combat units—where they were attached to, and what those kinds of missions were that they were doing.
LINDSAY: Yes, ma'am? Bring you a microphone in a second. To your left, to your left.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Hi, Gayle. I'm sure you saw the recent...
LINDSAY: If you could identify yourself, please?
QUESTION: I'm sure you saw the recent—was it a CBS documentary on women being trained, in which they asked the question can women really physically—no matter what, no matter how hard they train—ever be strong enough, able enough, physically able enough to do the kinds of things that do require equality. And the tacit conclusion of that was no. What do you think about that?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, I think my opinion is probably less relevant than a lot of the soldiers I spent time with at Fort Benning the other week, which was really interesting. Because they said everybody is saying that the fact that no females have gotten through this Marine program is a failure, and we see it as a success. Because it means they're not dumbing down the standard. We've never had a chance to train to the standard, we've never had a chance to be out there knowing exactly what needs to be done, we've never had a shot. If—you know, one of the observer advisors at Army Ranger school said if one female makes it through Army Ranger school at the end of all this that will be a success because nobody will have changed the standard and she will have proven that given the right time and the right training—which is the first time women have really had access to that—that we could do it.
And so I think that was the—the message that I took from that conversation. Which is that they don't think it's impossible, they just think that this is all very new and they want to be able to make sure that they meet the same standards. And that, I heard over and over again. And, in fact, I wrote this whole piece that was really only about standards. And—and one retired sergeant major wrote to me and said I've never heard anybody be so in love with the idea of standards when it was only men, you know. And I said, well, that's you saying that, not me. But yeah, I mean there's a lot of really fascinating conversations and also generational conversations going on.
LINDSAY: I would also say that a hundred weeks of hell seemed to have a lot of—had a major physical component to it.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes.
LINDSAY: Quite demanding, and I think most people—male or female—would not be able to meet those standards.
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's absolutely right. And, in fact, you know, Admiral Olson, General McChrystal, you know, they would say most men cannot make it through any of these courses so why would we expect different from a group to which we had just opened up all of these avenues? I mean, in fact, Admiral Olson and others would say that's just sort of—it's—it's not relevant to the conversation going on. But—but it's a conversation that should be had because I think all of this should be ventilated (ph).
LINDSAY: All the way in the back.
QUESTION: Hi. I'm to co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted. Gayle, I want to turn this to, you know, we're talking about war. And, you know, you talked about how the—the U.S. military kind of was in this position where they had to then go and seek out these women and bring them to Afghanistan. Well, what about the role of women in peace? And that's kind of what we're—my organization is all about. You know, trying to really advocate for women in foreign policy. And so where—where does—where does the peace element of—of women come in?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, and I—it's a fascinating question. You and I have had a lot of conversations over the years about the role of women in peace discussions and peace negotiations, as envoys, all of this, right? I think if you talk to the people involved, this is a question of having access to the same kinds of opportunities as others and being able to serve, right? And I think that they viewed their role there as helping to deescalate situations that were some of the worst that a family had ever seen, right? And to be, in some ways, the softer side of the hardest side of war.
And that is the war side. And then I think the separate question is, what happens afterward and are women represent—women from the communities represented and women from diplomatic communities represented. You know, I remember being in Afghanistan in 2010 around the Kabul conference and being in an event at the Serena Hotel the night before the Kabul conference, and women did not know if they would have any speaking role. And, in fact, it was Secretary Clinton and Katherine Ashton's appearance on the scene that guaranteed that women have a speaking role the following day. But the head of UNAMA at the time, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, stated before a ballroom full of women and said you're right, we totally forgot you and just admitted that. So, I mean, I think that it's just a question of more people having access to more roles and more opportunities.
LINDSAY: Back over here to Whitney (ph).
QUESTION: The first one is just a good news story, which is that as of this afternoon I understand only three of the 20 women in the Ranger school class did not make it through the PT section of the training.
LINDSAY: PT is...
TZEMACH LEMMON: Physical training.
LINDSAY: Physical training.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Sorry.
LINDSAY: Just for everybody (inaudible).
TZEMACH LEMMON: That's good news. I'm not friends (ph).
QUESTION: Right. What is it? I think 59 zips (ph), 49 push-ups and 5 miles in 40 minutes?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Something like that, yeah.
QUESTION: Right. And I think the grand majority of folks who go—the grand majority of folks who go to Ranger school wash out in that portion, so it's a...
TZEMACH LEMMON: Right. And—and fewer than half of people who went to Ranger school finish it.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Men—'cause it's only been men who we've had that number for 'til now.
QUESTION: Right. Right, so the 17 out of 20 made it through. And then my other question—and not having read the book, but—you know, as the combat ban is lifted, what lessons can the stories in your book teach, you know, the services and DOD as a whole, and the special operations community about how best to integrate women and what are the potential pitfalls and what are the things we could do to make that transition smoother?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yeah. I think there are a whole lot of lessons to be learned from this. And I think one is that part of the reason why these female soldiers were able to succeed alongside Ranger Regiment was because they could quickly prove themselves. It was very easy—if you find the person and the things that you are looking for, or you don't, you know that by—by the time that the evening is over. And so if you are able to bring value quickly, the IEDs are there, this—this is this person, you know, this person who has just said that there's a barricaded shooter.
It's very—you know, one guy said, you know, I—I had—one Ranger said to me, "I ask myself why we hadn't had them four deployments ago. You know, it would have been a whole lot easier than some guy wearing, you know, a Red Cross shirt trying to stay away from—trying to—to clear a roof." So, you know, I think that was the (inaudible). It was that the transparency, the ability to prove yourself quickly, the ability to really work to fit in, to be in the gym, to be right there alongside them, to keep up. And also the fact that their officer in charge, in this story, was somebody who really engaged in whole-person leadership. Right? She would ask them what their—you know, she made sure they had their favorite breakfast cereal.
And if there was one soldier had a guy who was—kept coming over and wanting to have coffee. And she's like, you know, I'm here to go to war, I'm not here to have coffee with you. And she mentioned that to her officer in charge, and the guy never is seen again. She still has no idea what happened, but he never called her for coffee again. Right? And so, you know, she had an officer in charge who was like you tell me what you need because I need you to be your best out there every single night. Because it's not just you you're representing, it's everybody who comes after you. And they were all very aware of that.
LINDSAY: I think there's a question over here. Did I—oh, way in the back. I'm sorry, it's very hard to see that far.
QUESTION: Sorry. Law professor at Fordham law school. Great project, Gayle. And I'm just wondering what lessons, if any, do you think we can draw from the repeal of the don't ask-don't tell policy. And going back even further, the integration of African-Americans into the military. Or do you think women just raise a totally different set of issues?
TZEMACH LEMMON: Both of those examples came up in probably seven out of ten interviews. Certainly in the first six months. And, in fact, (inaudible) I first heard about this story from Claire Russo (ph), who some of you remember, who was here at CFR. Matt Ponders (ph) was also part of these programs at the outset. And Claire Russo (ph) made this comment about, you know, after don't ask-don't tell women are the only people you can legally discriminate against. And I did not understand what she meant, right? And so—because I hadn't—you know, I—I knew, I had covered Afghanistan. I knew about, you know, what was happening in Afghanistan. But I certainly had never covered the issues of women in combat in detail before.
And so what you'd hear from a lot of the Rangers was they would cite some of the arguments that were used against integration of African-Americans and then against homosexuals in the don't ask-don't tell. And they would say and they've all proven to be mit (ph). And so, you know, especially the Ranger trainers and some of the people who became really the most outspoken advocates of this would—would argue that they will be the next—the next one that we will say—wow, in 20 years we will say isn't that amazing we had those conversations. Whether they're right, we'll see.
LINDSAY: And go over here?
QUESTION: CNN. I'm curious how often the rise of the female jihadis came up in your conversations. Clearly, the other side has—is very aware of what females in combat can do right now. And, you know, we've just seen American females who are going over there.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yes. I mean, that came out a lot. They would say, you know, it's really interesting that everybody knows much more about female jihadis and canines than they do about us. Both of which are true, right? I mean, you know, we—those stories have been out there much more than stories of valor of female soldiers. And so I think—I used to think about that all the time in terms of the responsibility of having this story and the privilege that it was to share it; the stories of the—the men and the women who shared their stories with me. That this was a slice of American history we simply did not know.
Actually, White is now the first member of this team on the Army Special Operations Command memorial wall, and she's the first female to have a plaque at the National Infantry Museum's memorial wall though women still are not able to serve in infantry today.
LINDSAY: Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: I just feel like somebody (inaudible).
LINDSAY: If—if you could just wait for the microphone, please?
QUESTION: Someone has to ask the question about sexual violence against women in the military.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yeah.
QUESTION: And whether the equalization will bring enough oxygen and sunlight to that issue. That there could be optimistic, if not Pollyanish (ph), approach to the question. But the outcome of recent surveys would indicate that that's a—you know, that's a very unresolved and very entrenched problem.
TZEMACH LEMMON: So two of the people within these stories are survivors of—of military sexual assaults. And, you know, they—both went on to serve with valor. And, in fact, one of the women whose in this story actually wanted to do this mission with the Rangers because she wanted to put herself in the most difficult combat circumstances that she could find herself and prove to herself she wouldn't be a victim again. And that would never happen to her again. And, you know, what she found was a—was just incredible discipline; none of the issues that she had found in—in some of the units that she had been part of before.
And, I mean, you know, I've been accused—some people say, well, you know this book is too positive about the special operations community. And so, you know, I can only reflect what my interviews say, which is that, you know, if you're given a shot that's all you ask for. And that's all that these women asked for. And, you know, Generate Dempsey has talked about two classes of citizens that the combat ban created. And that this—the lifting of that ban would. I mean, that—these were—you know, that was his view, that it would definitely put people on a playing field where, you know, this was an issue that he hoped you would not see in the same ways that we have. And—and I think time will tell.
LINDSAY: Oh, sorry. Didn't see you, sir.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm a colonel in the Air Force and a military fellow this year at CFR. I have a different perspective, and it's—it's—let me give you a little background. I'm in the Air Force. We opened up combat jobs to females in the early 1990s. The only combat jobs that are not open right now are the ones that are specifically precluded due to the special operations prohibition. So it just so happened that I went through my training with several of the first females who became fighter pilots, and I'm a fighter pilot. So we have had about a 20-year experience with females in being fighters in the Air Force, and they've done great.
No complaints. They've been fantastic. The interesting problem that we're having right now is we're not getting a lot of them to choose to be combat pilots. We assess about 20 percent of our officers as females, but we're not getting 20 percent through the pipeline into the combat roles, either bomber pilots, fighter pilots, special operations, that type of thing. And so we're—we're kind of wondering what do we do. And I was just ask—I—your perspective on that. And I know that's kind of a curveball. But we're 20 years into this experience.
We're—we're probably, you know, maybe, you know, 22 years away from where the special ops community is gonna be in the future. Because my—my assessment, and I think the assessment of most people, is that this is going to open up fairly quickly. And so at some point what happens when it's commonplace for women to go to the Air Force Academy, to graduate, to go to pilot training and they make a choice? And I'm just looking for your reaction to that.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Yeah. I mean, I think I will be watching the same way you are. I mean, you know, I—the Air Force was cited in a—as a very positive example frequently in these conversations. But this story was really about a very specific group of soldiers. And what was always so fascinating to me about their experience was any opening they could find they would take. I mean, you know, they were so self-selecting in wanting to be in the most—you know, it wasn't that they simply wanted to be in the front lines. It was that they wanted to be doing something that mattered, on a mission that mattered, in America's longest war, right?
None of them wanted to be back doing paperwork, none of them want—you know, in fact, one of them went—when the mission was over, went back to her cubicle and was about to die, right? The first day was like I can't believe this is what I've come back to. So, I mean, this was, I think, in the same way that you have small numbers who want to go into special operations it's very possible that these are very small numbers of women who are capable of this. But the heart and the grit was never in question. And so, I mean, I'll be very curious to see what happens in this next 6 months. You know, I think every one of these women—you know, you did see some of them getting out of the military, but only because they felt they were being underused.
To a one (ph), you lost West Pointers who had always wanted to be a (inaudible). You just lost—I mean, I—you know, probably half of them have gotten out in the past 6 months just because there's nothing that they feel will ever match up to what they did on the battlefield alongside those Rangers in the way that it was relevant and important and that what they did mattered. So, you know, in some ways it's a talent management issue, as Admiral Mullen has said in the past.
LINDSAY: I think all of us have gotten a taste of why CFR is very proud to have Gayle as a senior fellow. And I think you get a sense of why Ashley's War is an absolutely terrific book. I recommend it wholeheartedly to you, and I would ask all of you to join me in thanking Gayle for some excellent remarks.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Thank you. Thank you.
TZEMACH LEMMON: Thank you.
LINDSAY: Now I believe there is a reception. I encourage you to partake of it.