When Iowa native Miyoko Hikiji was 18 years old, she made a decision that many 18-year-old Iowans make: to enlist in the Army. However, as a woman in 1995, Hikiji would face a number of challenges in addition to her already arduous tasks as a soldier.
These experiences are outlined in her memoir, “All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq.”
The book begins strong, with a careful balance between Hikiji’s active duty experiences and thoughtful insights on the struggles women face in the military:
“Being on active duty made me more gender conscious than I’d ever been before. The camouflage uniforms did little to conceal gender bias and sexual harassment. All the men around me assumed something about me that I wasn’t aware of, or personally feel — that I was frail, weak, sensitive, emotional and fearful. As a result, most of them acted like I needed their physical protection and sexual validation. Holding a place in their ranks could not be earned by loyalty, toughness, physical fitness or hard work. A woman — a female soldier — could never be a brother.”
However, as the book continues, Hikiji moves away from these insights and focuses almost entirely on her budding relationship with a soldier named Jon. While there’s no doubt that navigating personal relationships was part of Hikiji’s service experience, this storyline includes fewer insightful reflections, which comes as disappointment for readers who have come to rely on Hikiji for both narration and analysis.
What Hikiji does capture beautifully — and simply — is the myriad emotions that surface when she finds herself back on American soil. These final pages demonstrate Hikiji’s strength as a writer and provide a strong set up for her next work.
Disjointed but thoughtful, “All I Could Be” provides a fresh perspective to the war memoir genre.