Name: Charlie Sherpa
Previously embedded: with former unit in Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Once just a "dusty specialist" who drove U.S. Army trucks in
post-invasion Iraq, Miyoko Hijiki shows up to the book store in
military-writer mufti. The author of "All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq,"
wears a smart khaki shirt-dress, with an American flag pin on her
collar. Still, one gets the feeling that the native Iowan would be just
as comfortable swapping her bayonet heels for desert combat boots.
Like most veterans, however, she'd rather be judged on deeds, capabilities, and character, rather than appearances.
"Friends, family, and the people at church know me as a mom and an Army
wife, and know nothing of my military career," Hikiji tells her
audience, introducing herself to a friendly, platoon-sized gathering at a
a cozy neighborhood independent in Des Moines, Iowa. Then, reading from her recently published book, she casually drops the F-bomb
. Twice. In the first 30 seconds.
The amicable audience settles in for the ride:
The view from left to right for hours was the same—camels, road, sand.
Then sand, road, sand. Then sand, road, camels with herder. Road. Sand.
As we approached the first town in southern Iraq, I grabbed a small
baseball bat I'd set on the seat and pointed out the driver's side
window. In marker I'd inscribed it with "This means get the f--- off my
truck in all languages" [...]
Hikiji's Iraq was the one with Desert Combat Uniforms
and antiquated trucks, hillbilly armor
and makeshift gun turrets. "We didn't have the stuff that you see now on TV [...]" she says. "We didn't have phones, Skype
, laundry—the stuff that makes war look like a training exercise."
She and her fellow soldiers received more enemy fire than they returned,
Hikiji says, but she delivers her observations with more wit than
bitterness. She doesn't shy away from hard topics, including what it
means to have women and men serve in the same Army. During the course of
a deployment, soldiers routinely form new friendships, alliances, and
even romantic relationships. Sometimes those connections bend. Sometimes
they break. Hikiji, who was not married when she deployed, certainly
kisses and tells. Without falling prey to salaciousness, she accurately
depicts the high-school-level hypocrisies and testosterone-fueled
minefields faced daily by female soldiers.
One part True Adventure, one part True Romance, then, this is a military
memoir that offers something to nearly every reader: Whether soldier or
spouse, leader or follower, or friend or foe to women in uniform.
Having enlisted in the U.S. Army for college benefits in 1995, Hikiji had returned to her home state of Iowa and joined the National Guard
while a journalism and psychology student at Iowa State University
When Iowa's 2133rd Transportation Company (2133rd Trans. Co.) was
notified for federal mobilization in 2003, she was three days away from
the end of her enlistment with the guard. She chose to re-enlist for
another term, she says, because "I didn't want to miss the opportunity. I
wanted to do what I'd been training to do for so many years."
In addition to writing personal letters and the unit newsletter, Hikiji
kept an extensive journal and mission log while on the 18-month
deployment. "I had thousands of pages when I got home." Still, she
didn't start actively writing a memoir until 2010–more than five years
after deployment, as well as getting married to a fellow National Guard
"I only started writing after I found I was empowered, that I could help
make a difference," she says. "Before that, I was just trying to figure
out what [the war] meant to me."
As part of her new mission to explain soldier and veteran life, Hikiji
also seeks to celebrate two 2133rd Trans. Co. soldiers who died during
the unit's deployment—Spc. Aaron J. Sissel,
22, and Pfc. David M. Kirchoff
31. Two others were seriously injured while overseas. "It is very
important to remember that, in all my healthy days, they and their
families had a very different experience than the rest of us," she says.
After five months of training at Fort McCoy, Wis. and in Kuwait, the Iowa unit was attached to 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
in Western Iraq. While based at the former Al Asad Air Base
, the unit's 2-soldier truck crews could spend hours, days, or weeks out on missions.
"When I first joined the National Guard, I didn't like it," admits Hikiji. "It didn't feel like the Army. It was too relaxed."
"Then, I found out that the truck drivers on active duty Army just drove
trucks. The truck drivers in the National Guard, however, were also
electricians, plumbers, firefighters, teachers. We were always fixing
stuff up. Vehicles, living quarters. The active-duty units eventually
figured out: If you needed something fixed, you came over to Hawkeye."
(Members of 2133rd Trans. Co. wore the Iowa National Guard's "Hawkeye" patch, the shape of which is based on the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's patch.)
Something of a Swiss Army knife
herself, the author-mother-veteran is also an occasional actor and
model. She appears on the cover of her own book—a woman contemplating a
composite image of dog-tags and a female soldier. Hikiji took a
professional risk and paid for the photography out of pocket, then sent
the cover to her publisher for consideration. "They could have said
'no,'" she says. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.
At the book event in Beaverdale, Hikiji deftly navigates through
hot-potato questions, some of which seem like they could easily cook off
Given the backdrop sexual assaults in the military, would she
recommend military service to young women and men today? "I would never
tell someone they couldn't serve [...] but I'd want people do their
research and know the risks. There's such a variety of experiences, and
much depends on local commanders."
Don't all veterans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.)?
Hikiji replies that PTSD has three components: The experience of a
traumatic event; stressors such as joblessness, homelessness, and social
isolation; and lack of a support network. "All of you are now part of
my support network," she tells the audience.
"I wouldn't want someone to reject me based on the person I was then," she says. "That was a necessary person."
Her own preschool-aged daughters can read the book when they're 14, she
says. "Otherwise, they would never have the opportunity to know the
person that I was then."
What about the people at church?
She shrugs, leans back on the desk, and smiles the big smile: The happy warrior. An everyday iconoclast. The veteran next door.
"I guess I'll find out Sunday."
"All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq"
is available in trade paperback
and Amazon Kindle
An official book launch event is planned for Fri., Jun. 7, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Iowa Gold Star Museum
, on the Camp Dodge
military installation near Johnston, Iowa. Contact the author via
e-mail (m_hikiji AT yahoo.com) not later than Thurs., Jun. 6, to reserve
a seat at the catered event.
For information regarding this and other "All I Could Be" events, as well as a blog written by Hikiji, click here