Beyond the Call
Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan
Da Capo Press, New York, 2018, 231 pages
Book Review published on: March 27, 2020
In Beyond the Call: Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan, journalist and editor Eileen Rivers starts by describing the history of women in the military. She then goes on to describe the surge of women in Afghanistan and the beginning of female engagement teams. Rivers brings credibility to
the subject not only because of her history covering veteran affairs and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but also because she herself is a U.S. Army
veteran who served in Kuwait after Desert Storm.
Through this book, the reader gleans great insight into the lives of Afghan women, including both their desperation and the hope and empowerment the American women in combat were able to give them. Through female soldier involvement, American soldiers were able to gain information from both Iraqi and Afghan women that served to fight the Taliban. It also served to help soldiers protect the Afghan women and restore their communities.
The book explains the cultural shifts that have occurred with women in combat. Beyond the Call: Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan tells the personal stories of three female soldiers: Sheena Adams, Maria Rodriguez, and Johanna Smoke. Each woman fought valiantly to protect those around her, and each woman fought side-by-side with men; however, the women were gathering information and making headway in ways that men had been unable to do before—relationally with women, children, and elders. Often, these relationships would occur when the women were involved in passing out supplies and providing medical examinations for other women and children. Each also had her own niche and way she demonstrated profound leadership. For instance, Capt. Smoke’s efforts included helping the Afghan women gain the right to vote. Sgt. Adams was crucial to helping Afghan women secure microloans to create their own businesses selling clothes and jewelry, and Maj. Rodriguez trained Afghan women to be police officers. The reader also learns from the perspective of an Afghan woman, Jamila Abbas. Through her story, the audience is educated even more on how female soldiers built relationships with Afghan women, how they performed intelligence during wartime, how they carried heavy loads, and how they fought in deadly battles against the Taliban. The book concludes by acknowledging the effects of war and what these women faced at home after being in Afghanistan.
Beyond the Call: Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan effectively describes the lives of these three female soldiers serving in Afghanistan and leaves the reader thinking about all the other women who also served, what they have accomplished, and how their lives may have been impacted.
Including Abbas’ story in the book also did a valuable job of not only demonstrating how desperate the lives of Afghan women were but how empowered some of them became by the female engagement teams. Rodriguez's story of her service as the head of female engagement in Zabul Province was particularly interesting. There she trained Afghan female police officers, which was a very dangerous endeavor for these women because their culture prohibited women from working outside the home and was especially adamant that women avoid performing male-oriented jobs.
The book is written some in first person and some in third person. Though effectively and cleverly done, this perspective shift may be difficult for some readers to follow. However, the insight this book provides, the bravery represented by these women during a time of growing roles, and how they served side-by-side with men serves as an inspiration to any woman who may be interested in the military or who wishes she had become involved in the military. Whether man or woman, one cannot read this book without a sense of pride for these strong soldiers and others like them.
Book Review written by: Rodney S. Morris, EdD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas