Bookmarks Issue: 

Young and Female in the U.S. Army

A-LoveMyRifleAccording to 28-year-old Sergeant Kayla Williams, the U.S. army breeds either sluts or bitches. Williams, an ex-punk who first fired a gun at age 10 and had a Palestinian boyfriend who taught her Arabic, knows firsthand. She enlisted for five years of active duty in 2000, and in 2003 she was deployed to Iraq as a linguistic specialist. Love My Rifle describes her experiences: her numbing boredom and sheer terror, war’s inhumanity and contradictions, the military’s sexual dynamics. Knowing well how it feels to be sexually harassed, Williams shares her regret in her participation in the abuse of an Iraqi prisoner. But back home, Williams wanted more. "[A]ll that clarity and purpose [of war] faded almost before I knew it," she said. "I wanted that feeling of solidity and strength back."
Norton. 288 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393060985

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"At once witty and heart-rending, it is among the first active combat memoirs from Iraq, and it gives a searing view of life among brother and sister warriors. … Blunt to the end, Williams does not allow us a Hollywood ending. She leaves us with no closure." Susan Campbell

Sacramento Bee 4 of 5 Stars
"Love My Rifle More Than You is sometimes insightful, sometimes shocking, sometimes exceptionally raw, but always compelling. … She is at once vulnerable and tough." William Endicott

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At times irreverent, angry, profane, and ugly, Williams’s book is the kind that does not endear you to higher command. … At other times, it’s the story of a woman who would just like to know what it is to be normal again—knowing that she never will be." Harry Thomas

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Williams offers] real, on-the-ground insight into the lives of both Iraqis and American soldiers. Her descriptions of a local entrepreneur who sold soldiers Osama bin Laden cigarette lighters, a priest struggling to defend his church with one rusty old rifle, and the moment she found herself pointing her own weapon at a child are much more effective than a political analysis of those same events." Debra Ginsberg

Ft. Worth Star Telegram 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The timeliness and raw authenticity of Williams’ memoir makes Rifle worthwhile, but its literary quality is negligible. This is a book in the rough, but if you can tolerate the profanity and crude, slapdash writing, it delivers the goods about how enlisted soldiers—especially women—fare in the chaotic environment of Iraq." Claude Crowley

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2 of 5 Stars
"I’m unsure what to make of Love My Rifle. I suspect that she overstates the sexual tension at times—but then again, she’s a woman, which I’m not, and she served in Iraq, which I didn’t. Maybe in 15 or 20 years, when Williams has picked up some maturity and put some distance between herself and the Army, she’ll revisit her experience." Harry Levins

Houston Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"While Williams’s frequent if not unexpected sexual harassment is impossible to defend, this memoir is still an unsatisfying read. Her stories of political infighting, jealousies, promiscuity, and personality conflicts aren’t that interesting." Bob Ruggiero

Critical Summary

Williams’s war memoir is just one in a string that originated from recent U.S.-led forays into the Middle East, and its uniqueness comes from its female perspective. Critics agree that Love My Rifle is no deep piece of literature. Instead, it’s a shocking, on-the-ground view of one military woman’s experience in Iraq. Williams spares no details about the stress of combat, the questionable treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and her scathing opinion of the U.S. administration, though she never explains why she enlisted in the first place. As one of only 15 percent of women employed by the Army, Williams possibly overplays the sexual harassment she suffered—or so claim a few of the more suspect male reviewers. But the story’s not over: Williams can be called back to duty any time.