The first time I heard a woman describe her deployment in glowing terms, I was taken aback. Marine Colonel Jenny Holbert told me that being in charge of public affairs for the second battle of Fallujah was "probably one of the biggest events of my life, other than birthing two children." I thought, cynically, that this enthusiasm was all part of her role as a public-affairs officer. It took me a while to understand how compelling the experiences of being in a combat zone could be for the women I talked with. Colonel Holbert's enthusiasm for deployment was only one of many surprises I encountered over the course of the 52 interviews I did with women soldiers, sailors, coasties, airmen, and marines across the eastern seaboard.

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Copyright © 2010 The Chronicle of Higher Education. This article first appeared in The Chronicle Review March 12, 2010.

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