Life as an American Female Soldier
Hair falling out, periods on hold, and peeing in a cup: for female soldiers, life on the front lines involves stuff men never have to think about.
By Tara McKelvey
Women in training: Since 2002, 165,000 female U.S. soldiers have served in the Middle East.
Photo Credit: S. Olson/Getty Images
SERGEANT STEPHANIE JAMES, 23
"THERE WERE SO MANY THINGS I COULDN'T CONTROL. LOSING CLUMPS OF HAIR WAS JUST ONE MORE THING."
I signed up for the army in June 2001, when I was 17. They were offering to pay for some of my college education. I wasn't concerned about the possibility of going to war; I just kept thinking, This is going to be cool.
Two years later, I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Urbana, and I got a phone call from my platoon sergeant, who said, "Your unit has been put on alert." That evening, I went to see The Vagina Monologues at a local theater with friends from my dorm. I didn't say anything about the phone call. On November 11, Veterans Day, I was told I was being deployed. I quit my part-time job at David's Bridal shop and boxed up the clothes in my dorm.
In February, I went to a base in Kuwait, where you had to wait in long lines no matter where you were: in the mess hall, bathroom, shower. You were never alone. At night, I put on headphones and played Norah Jones to block it all out.
One of the most important things I brought from home was a photograph of me and my mom. I'm 1 or 2 years old in the picture, and I'm wearing overalls and a red shirt. My mom is holding me, and she's wearing a beaded necklace. When I was feeling homesick, I'd look at the picture. I also had a bright-orange University of Illinois T-shirt that I slept in at night. As soon as I got to Kuwait, I regretted not packing my flatiron. My hair gets so frizzy when it's hot outside and over there, it was always hot. I finally had my mom mail me one.