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by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & Band of Sisters & r & by Kirsten Holmstedt & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hatever happened to the debate about whether American women should participate in combat during wartime? It seems someone quietly took a shovel (metaphorically speaking) and buried that debate in the sands near Baghdad. Of the tens of thousands of American women serving their country honorably -- and sometimes heroically -- in Iraq and Afghanistan, many flew helicopters and fighter planes or were part of truck convoys that were frequently interrupted by buried explosive devices or sniper fire.





In her book Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq, Kirsten Holmstedt tells the stories of 12 women. We learn about Marine Captain and Cobra helicopter pilot Vernice Armour -- according to Holmstedt, America's first black female combat pilot. And we're introduced to Marine Lance Corporal Chrissy DeCaprio -- 5-foot-1 and 128 pounds of blood and guts.





"The first time an Iraqi insurgent shot at ... DeCaprio, she was standing in the turret of a scout vehicle. Beside her was her .50-caliber ... machine gun," writes Holmstedt. "It was a gun that DeCaprio not only knew how to shoot but loved to shoot. It didn't matter that [the gun] was as long as DeCaprio was tall."





Holmstedt, through interviews and documents, takes us to the battlefields and cockpits. The stories provide a vicarious look at life in wartime Iraq, from harrowing battlefield experiences to the women's efforts to fit in with their mostly-if-not-all-male units.





"Most of our brothers don't look at us any differently," says Marine Gunnery Sergeant Yolanda Mayo. "It's just the gunny, first sergeant, CO. It's time everyone looked at us this way."





"I'm proud to run convoys through some of the most dangerous roads in Iraq," wrote First Lieutenant Lindsay Mathwick in an e-mail from Camp Fallujah. "Women in the military today are in combat operations. We get blown up and shot at just like guys. Stop pretending we're not out there risking and sacrificing our lives like our male counterparts." Some, like Army Sergeant Angela Jarboe, came home with serious wounds -- just like the guys.





Holmstedt's prose is sometimes clunky and occasionally preachy, but Band of Sisters is definitely worth the time.

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