From O magazine, a powerful story of Ashton Goodman, a young female soldier who served in Afghanistan, and who died there:
Under leaden winter skies, nine air force and army soldiers, bulky with gear and weapons, waited on rain-darkened gravel near tan, mud-splashed Humvees to begin the drive north to their small forward operating base (FOB) in Panjshir Province. The youngest, Air Force Sr. Airman Ashton Goodman, 21, stood beside me in camouflage uniform with pistol, carbine, knife, heavy boots, and helmet, explaining that as a vehicles “op” (short for vehicle operator dispatcher), she maintained and drove Humvees, Land Cruisers, “whatever has wheels.” She added that she couldn’t wait to drive one of the newer Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected all-terrain vehicles, a paleolithic-looking monster built to survive roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes. A former supply truck driver on mine-infested roads in Iraq, Goodman was about two months into her new deployment in this relatively peaceful, “model” province.
Established in 2005 by combined American military, civilian, and NATO forces, the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), working closely with the Afghan people, was responsible for diverse humanitarian efforts, from medical clinics and vaccination programs to schools and engineering and agricultural projects. Although at the time its 70-member team was the smallest of the 26 PRT sites throughout Afghanistan, FOB Lion was considered a showcase. I was going there to write about the five female soldiers on that team.
My initial impression of the diminutive, blue-eyed, athletic Sr. Airman Goodman that bleak afternoon at Bagram was of a wholesome G.I. Jane action figure come to life. She’d missed her dream of becoming a fighter pilot, she later told me, by being one inch under air force height requirement.
I wish I’d met Goodman. I’ve interviewed female — and male soldiers; Kayla Williams’ book “Love My Rifle More Than You” offers a searing look past the headlines to the gritty (no showers) life she lived. After she returned home, she and her husband, a fellow soldier, suffered from PTSD and TBI, traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, caused by the explosions of IEDs. Coming home sometimes offers little peace.
I once interviewed the father of a soldier whose helicopter had toppled off a mountaintop, killing all aboard. When he answered my call, he offered to email his son’s eulogy, which he was in the middle of writing. Until you speak to a soldier or their loved ones, the personal cost of war can remain something distant and abstract, a photo or a story or something on TV.
Their collective sacrifice is invisible to most of us, and extraordinary.
Thanks to all who have served, and still do.