Honoring Ashley White, a U.S. Army veteran, on Memorial Day

Ashley White, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, was awarded the combat action badge during her deployment in Afghanistan. This prestigious silver military award is given to soldiers who have personally encountered enemy attacks during conflict. For Ashley, receiving this badge was not only a significant achievement but also a symbolic initiation into the realities of war. On her third mission in Kandahar province, she bravely used her own body as a shield to protect a group of civilian women and children from gunfire. Miraculously, everyone survived this harrowing incident. Despite her courage, Ashley chose to keep this accomplishment to herself, never mentioning it to anyone in her battalion.

“My daughter was incredibly humble,” shared Ashley’s mother, Deborah White, as she reflected on Memorial Day this year. “She would be shocked and overwhelmed by all the recognition she has received since her passing.”

Ashley White, a young soldier serving in Afghanistan, tragically lost her life on October 22, 2011. While on a tour with the Special Operations task force, an improvised explosive device was accidentally triggered by a fellow soldier, resulting in her death along with two others. Ashley, who was only 24 years old at the time, was posthumously honored with several prestigious military accolades. These included the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Meritorious Service Medal.

White, a native of northeastern Ohio, defied the odds and became one of the chosen few among hundreds of applicants to serve in Special Operations forces during the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This remarkable achievement took place at a time when women soldiers were prohibited from combat roles. White’s journey began during her second semester at Kent State University, where she pursued a degree in sports medicine and joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.

According to Deborah White, Ashley White had a fondness for camaraderie and the close-knit bond within the group. ROTC, a leadership training program aimed at preparing college students for different roles in the Armed Forces, mandates that participants fulfill a term of military service upon earning their degrees. Ashley White embarked on her journey as a Medical Services Corps Officer and dedicated several years to serving with the U.S. National Guard in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In 2011, the military began recruiting women for Cultural Support Teams, which aimed to bridge the gap between U.S. soldiers and Afghan women. Due to cultural customs, male soldiers were often unable to interact with Afghan women. The women on these teams had a specific role of facilitating communication with civilian women and children. A recruitment flier encouraged female soldiers to be a part of history by joining the male-dominated Special Ops. White saw this as an opportunity and successfully applied for the program. After undergoing additional training, she deployed in August.

White’s service in Afghanistan played a significant role in the military’s decision to officially lift the ban in 2013. This was a crucial moment that recognized the valuable contributions of women soldiers who had been serving for many years. It also paved the way for career opportunities that were once exclusively available to men.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, the author of the 2015 book “Ashley’s War” which tells the story of White and the women who served alongside her, highlighted in a discussion with the Council of Foreign Relations that their courageous actions may have paved the way for future integration. Reflecting on White’s passing, her mother expressed that she had shattered the glass ceiling.

Lemmon’s captivating narrative sheds light on the remarkable women who quietly guided a crucial part of the war effort, despite the absence of any guarantee of recognition. This narrative places White at the heart of it all and effectively brings her story to the forefront. As a result, “Ashley’s War” achieved great success, becoming a bestseller according to The New York Times.

People who were acquainted with her were motivated by White’s impressive list of accomplishments. However, Lemmon has been informed by these individuals, as well as White’s mother, that it was her personal demeanor of kindness and resilience that truly set her apart.

During a talk in 2015, Lemmon described Ashley as the driving force behind a remarkable team of soldiers who eagerly answered the call to serve. According to Lemmon, Ashley was known for her humility and ability to let her actions speak for themselves. She never boasted about her skills or accomplishments but instead demonstrated the power of character through her actions.

Deborah White aptly described the far-reaching legacy of White when she said, “it’s everywhere.”

Her name is immortalized in various ways to honor her remarkable acts of courage and valor. She is one of the few women who have been recognized for their exceptional bravery and is featured in a special exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Army in Virginia. Furthermore, multiple housing complexes for women veterans in two states proudly bear her name, serving as a constant reminder of her legacy. Additionally, the White family established a foundation in her memory, granting two students graduating from her Marlboro Township high school $1,500 scholarships each year. These initiatives are a testament to the lasting impact she has made and the admiration she continues to receive.

People all over the country, both within and outside the military, have celebrated White as a hero. She is seen as an outstanding soldier and a trailblazer who has played a crucial role in opening doors for the next generation of women. These women now face fewer limitations than ever before as they strive to rise through the ranks.

Deborah White attributed her daughter’s courage, particularly at such a young age, to her own upbringing.

“My kids are all incredibly motivated. Perhaps my husband and I did something right in raising them,” she reflected. “I’m not entirely sure. But this one, she completely surpassed my expectations.”

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MBS Staff
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