Miyoko Hikiji joined the U.S. Army in Iowa as a way to pay for a college education. Near the end of her enlistment contract in the Iowa National Guard and before completing her degree in journalism, her unit was called to active duty in Iraq in early 2003. Good looking at 5'3" and 120 lbs., she didn't "look the part," but passed all of the qualifying tests, including weapons training and a 12.5 mile march in full uniform carrying a rifle and a 50-pound backpack.
All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq is Miyoko Hikiji's account of the year she spent in the Iraqi war. It's her personal journey, but also a convincing argument that women in the military are beneficial to the mission, whatever it might be.
Her job in Iraq was to drive a five-ton truck transporting supplies, equipment, troops, and enemy prisoners in support of a regiment securing the northwest quadrant of the war-torn country. Her role was considered non-combatant, but it was dangerous and nerve-wracking. She was required to carry a rifle at all times.
"Our convoys of vehicles moving slowly across the open desert were an easy target," she says. "Ambushes and explosions along the road were common."
She and the few other women in her unit had to overcome gender bias.
"You constantly had to prove that you were just as capable as the men. They often overlook the fact that women possess organizational and multi-tasking skills and a high level of selfless service that contribute to the mission."
In addition to coping with the same fears, discomforts and frustrations as the men—long days, boiling heat, sand in their sweat, bad food, sleep deprivation, boredom, loneliness, homesickness, low morale, and the constant threat of an attack from any direction—women also had to deal with other soldiers' snide remarks, crude behavior, and sexual harassment.
"Men enjoy having women around, but when men have to compete for their attention or affection, they often get angry, jealous and resentful."
The military forbids romantic relationships, but the policy is widely ignored. Hikiji and a tall machine gunner connected early on. They were discreet and never allowed their relationship to interfere with their responsibilities. They didn't object when given assignments that kept them apart for weeks at a time. Still, they were blamed for damaging morale.
"As long as a woman soldier does her duty in a war zone, as I did, she should be allowed to enjoy the comfort and support of a loving companion", she says.
Hikiji earned respect from many of her comrades as well as 12 decorations during her full military career. Her company received the second highest unit decoration, The Valorous Unit Award, for extraordinary heroism.
All I Could Be is part military history, part memoire and part personal therapy. The book is a tribute to every man and woman in uniform for the sacrifices they make for their country.
All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq Miyoko Hikiji
Hardcover 224 pages,
History Publishing Company
May 24, 2013
The book can be ordered at book stores, on online and from the publisher www.historypublishingco.com or www.allicouldbe.com