War Flower: My Life after Iraq (March 2019) is a no-holds-barred account of the reality one woman faced in war and pushes back against the stereotypes of women in combat. It received a starred-review from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly called it a “harrowing and powerful book.” Below is an excerpt.
Private Dupree sat at the bus stop waiting for the hajji bus to come pick her up for work. She rolled the metal links from her dog tag chain in her mouth, contemplating the conversation she had had last night with her roommate, Specialist Hooper, about not being able to handle the deployment, the long months spent away from her family, her grandmother. Hooper only nodded to her, telling her that like anything hard in life, it’s best to keep your head down and keep moving. Would she be able to endure the rest of the deployment? She didn’t know, but the longer she sat there, the more she moved the metal back and forth, until the clanking sound of metallic disruption vibrated in her ears the way Tibetan tingsha meditation cymbals slap together to create a long, resonating sound reflective of a hungry ghost begging to be reborn again.
I wasn’t there when the mortar round came into base and blew up the bus stop, wounding Private Dupree. I was in the convoy staging area listening to the NCOIC give a convoy brief. Sergeant Lippert stood there spitting brown tobacco on the ground in clumped streams while the new soldiers hurriedly scribbled down call signs, route info, checkpoint locations, and truck ordering. Other soldiers PMCS’d their trucks and checked tires, ratchet straps on the payloads, headlights, flashlights, and NVGS. Some stood around smoking Marlboro Reds, Parliaments, or Camel Lights. Others just stood there with their hands ruffed around the collar of their flak vest, waiting to roll out. The gunners checked their canisters of ammo, goggles, headsets, and piss cups. Some oiled down the bolt on their weapon, while others checked to make sure they had a case each of water, Rip It energy drinks, and shitty Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. When the convoy brief was done, the drivers started up their engines like Indy car drivers, checking and double- checking gauges, looking at the fuel levels, engine temp, battery life, and brakes. The radio hands conducted comm checks with battalion and the convoy commander. Across the base Private Dupree was sitting at the bus stop waiting for her ride to work while I stood in the convoy staging area pulling drags of deep gray smoke from my unfiltered Lucky Strike and pretended to care about Sergeant Lippert’s preconvoy prayer.
Lord, keep us safe today . . .
Throughout the base the sirens blared the warning to seek shelter, and it was then that the shells came hurtling into base. Inside a concrete bunker beyond the staging area, I was safe. In the distance a plume of smoke permeated the sky. Inside the trucks the sound of radio chatter buzzed and crackled, and it was then that I knew one of us had been injured. From my concreted spot I could see the main road on base and the Charlie Company doctors running half-dressed to their medevac Humvees. In a cloud of dust and kicked-up rocks, their wheels screeched out of the battalion headquarters parking lot and down the road toward the plume of smoke, which had turned from gray to black.
I didn’t know Private Dupree very well. We had gone to basic training together, but she was in a different company than me. They say she sustained shrapnel wounds to her body and that is wasn’t too bad. She would live. Either way, I sat with Specialist Hooper, one of her good friends, all night, waiting until she felt like talking. We sat there in silence.