In Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War, journalist Thorpe portrays the lives of her subjects before, during, and after their deployments.
Your book made me realize how clueless much of the civilian population was about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When I was starting out, I was motivated by the awareness that we’d been at war for a long time, and wanting to follow the news but finding it somewhat hard to comprehend.
How did you find your subjects? Why did you choose National Guard recruits?
In the very early stages of the project, I interviewed anybody who had served in any branch of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I probably interviewed about two dozen veterans who all lived in Colorado, where I live. It was with one young woman, identified as Michelle in the book, that I had the best rapport. In our first meeting, she mentioned her two close friends, Debbie and Desma. They had become incredibly close while serving together, yet there was a 30-year age difference between them. Politically, they were equally far apart. They had really different understandings of why they went to Iraq and Afghanistan, what was rewarding about living through a deployment, and whether the wars were a good idea.
What was their motivation for getting so involved in this project?
All three wanted civilians to understand what a veteran’s experience was like. They felt frustrated [trying] to convey what they’d lived through to the people in their lives who hadn’t gone on deployments. I think they wanted to tell it all to one person who could then broadcast it to a larger audience. They all talked to me about the frustration they felt coming home to a population that couldn’t relate to them very well. I think their second motivation was to help other veterans feel less alone when they came home.
It seems like Desma, a single mom with three kids, had the most chaotic experience.
I was fascinated by the extremity of her juggling act, being a parent and a soldier at the same time. We don’t know how her kids would have struggled or not struggled if she had stayed home, so there’s no control in the experiment. Yet, I have to believe that her two deployments had a big effect on them and were part of what they found so challenging—her absences and transformations.
The women were remarkably honest about their drinking, their affairs.
Trust developed over time. And they revealed some of that material not in the initial interviews, but later. I was really impressed by their candor and bravery.