Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq
In her forward to the book Powder Helen Benedict tells the reader that they are about to read stories by women who have “seen and done things few people ever see or do”… and that the writings in this book have “much to tell us about morality, courage, fear, betrayal and-of course-war.” In this way the stories are not so different than the ones male soldiers tell. Before finishing the first chapter it becomes clear to the reader that as Benedict says, “women tell different war stories than men” both in the subject matter they write about and in how they view and process the experiences they have in war.
The book opens with “Hymn” by Charlotte M. Brock. In the story she is processing her experience working in mortuary affairs in the combat zone. These soldiers are tasked with taking the war’s brutalized dead and carefully and respectfully restoring them to their loved ones in the best condition possible under the circumstances. While it is a world that is difficult to imagine even for other soldiers, Brock gives us, “I was a caretaker, a love giver, a mother of the dead.” in an attempt to convey why, after returning from the combat zone, she feels, “Part of me wishes I was still with them.
When LTC Victoria A. Hudson finishes her piece “Convoy Day” with “I wonder why I want someone to shoot.” it is more of a challenge than a statement, daring the reader to judge. If you have never been to the combat zone you may be tempted to say to yourself “that could never be me.” After reading Hudson’s account, carefully constructed to show how all the events on that particular convoy day led up to her admission, you wonder that anyone could hold those feelings at bay.
Not all of the stories in Powder are filled with the desperate and brutal side of combat. Sharon D. Allen’s story “A New Definition of Dirt” is a thoughtful and sometimes humorous reflection on being part of the teams of combat engineers who helped build the sprawling camps and bases created by the U.S. during the war in Iraq. Located in spots where they were tasked with building the camps from the ground up, there were no toilets, showers or even washstands available for them to wash off the all-pervasive desert sand and dust. She envisions what would become of her team if they were forgotten out there with the lizards and camel spiders and ended up as unrecognizable desert mountain men offering sacrificial water bottles to various gods.
These are just a few examples of what the reader will find between the covers in Powder, which also includes stories and poems from women veterans of the war in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia, the Cold War, and the war in Afghanistan.
Wonder why the book is named Powder? You’ll have to take a look.