All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq, by Miyoko Hikiji

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Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

The cover of this book entices a potential reader with a beautiful young woman naked to the waist holding her open hands over her chest. Kneeling in her open hands is a miniature of herself kneeling, head bowed, dressed in battle green camo, holding her M-16 straight up, with a full-sized dog tag dangling from her hands. This striking cover illustrates the juxtaposition this young woman, Miyoko Hikiji faces not only as a member of the National Guard but as a member of the Regular Army after the guard is called up after 9/11.

After basic Army training which she completes—long timed runs, marches in full gear, weapon, and 50-pound ruck sack, timed push-ups and sit-ups—she could never be good enough because she was female. At this time, she decides to become a woman warrior: dependable, capable, equal, not to be overlooked. She also finds a man, Jon, to call her own although fraternization is against Army rules. She also acquires a battle buddy, called a “battle” that is an Army rule. You didn’t go anywhere without your battle—your best friend, your confidante, the one that has your back. Three weeks’ training and Hikiji begins her double-journey: Kuwait and then Iraq; woman to woman warrior. In her first mission, she drives a truck leftover from WWII in a convoy. Because the truck has no radio, she has to make unexpected turnarounds in tight spaces, but she succeeds.

No longer an outsider with the first mission under her belt, she is taking in the war with all her senses:  its gritty sand, sweat, small towns that might have snipers or booby-traps to watch for, bombing at night, eating old MREs, trying to sleep on a fold-out cot in the back of her truck. Even with Jon there, the tracers keep them awake. She marks another day in her journal.

Day after day, she marks problems in this war: promotions to shoddy soldiers, pseudo-soldiers that prefer to give fifty percent effort, her sergeant’s anger at her relationship with Jon when there are other couples, too—that don’t get the tongue-lashing and threats she gets. She decides what so many others in other wars conclude: There just aren’t any rules here.  Then she sees what was called in the Vietnam War, the thousand-yard stare (183), she questions God, watches men, not women, promoted, and worries about going home. Who will she be?

Reviewed by: Margaret Brown (2014)

Author's Synopsis

Before Washington officials said that women could go into combat, they were out there in the battle, but just not getting credit for it. Armed with M16 s and more robust firepower, women support troops backed up infantry units and got into the thick of it when called up to lend support.

Transportation troops, in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the IED laden roads with critically needed ammunition and supplies were always in the combat zone, explosive devices frequently causing the loss of limb and life attested to that.

Miyoko Hikiji, a young woman from Iowa knows well of it well enough to write a book about it. All I Could Be My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq tells it just the way it was when, as a young woman in the Iowa National Guard, she was deployed to Iraq after the invasion ten years ago and discovered that the peaceful world she knew amid the Midwestern farm land had been replaced by the wind driven sand dunes of Iraq. Peace she discovered had become a pleasant and distant memory. Armed with an M16 and the equipment of the modern warrior, Miyoko was told to take her weapon into the cab of a truck, sit behind the wheel, and join a series of convoys. Each day she drove deeper into harm s way.

And each night was a nightmare in the making. Miyoko writes of one such night, "The infantry's mortar platoon, just down the street, zeroed in and returned fire. The opposite bank exploded. Then, two patrol boats fixed with automatic weapons screamed by opening fire along the bank. The radio on the patio lit up with chatter but we couldn't make out details. Moments later it was silent again. Voices on the radio became clear--all clear. Reluctantly we climbed out of the hole and returned to our tents. No one could sleep but no one wanted to talk. We lay silently in our bunks until the sun beckoned us to start another day."

And, another day always brought stress, fear and all that war brings. "It is my war story," writes Miyoko, "it is part military history, part personal revelation, part therapy, the stuff of so many war stories that have become a vital part of the great American tradition."

"All I Could Be" is a fascinating beginning to a new chapter in that great tradition: the recognition of the woman warrior in America.