A Woman's War, The Professional and Personal Journey of the Navy's First African American Female Intelligence Officer,by Durangoan Gail Harris with Pam McLaughlin, is a revealing look at the inner workings of the United States
Spurred on by a childhood dream inspired by watching the film Wing and a Prayer," 5-year-old Harris vowed to become
a Navy intelligence officer. It didn't matter to her that no woman or African-American ever had filled that role;
Harris was determined to succeed, and her father supported her goal.
This informative and fact-filled book answers many questions the public may have about how our leaders make tactical
decisions in times of national emergencies. The behind-the-scenes look at the massive amount of data that must be
sorted, and its importance evaluated, boggles the mind.
The U.S. Intelligence Community consists of 18 agencies, including the Navy. These entities provide America with an
information advantage, especially the data the president and National Security Council need to make critical
decisions to protect U.S. citizens and interests from foreign security threats.
Harris' story will appeal to readers interested in both women's and military history. Because of the huge interest in
how the intelligence community operates since Sept. 11, Scarecrow Press is spearheading a group of books on
professional intelligence education. A Woman's War is the 10th in this fascinating series. Although these books
originally were designed for people studying for a career in intelligence work, the series strives to educate the
public about how vital this work is and how it should be conducted.
Personally, Harris had three goals in writing the book, which took her six years to finish and get published. First, she wanted to educate the public, especially those critical of the intelligence community after Sept. 11. She also
wanted to encourage young people to consider joining the field as a career choice. And lastly, she wanted to convince
everyone to reach for their dreams because she was able to fulfill hers despite great odds.
Faith and family ties are strong partners that helped Harris throughout her career in a male-dominated field. One of
her strongest supporters was her father, and she turned to him when the going got tough. A strong faith also inspired
her efforts to endure the rigors of military service when far from home and family.
A Woman's War sometimes seems more a professional autobiography than a personal memoir with limited intriguing
glimpses into her inner life. Harris shares her battles with prejudice and the trials of being a trailblazer forging
a path for those who followed.
Harris also organized the first interagency intelligence conference addressing the new threat of cyber warfare. When
Harris retired, she was the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Navy.
One issue woven throughout her story, revealing a double standard in the Navy, is Harris' struggle with her weight.
The Navy apparently has regulations regarding height-weight ratio, and it seems to be enforced more for females. At
one point, Harris existed on only 500 calories a day and still couldn't lose weight. Finally, she was diagnosed with
Graves' disease, which explained many of her physical problems, including her inability to lose weight, an atypical
symptom of the illness.
There is a lot of military alphabet soup involved in her narrative, especially because Harris traveled so much and
worked in many different areas of intelligence. She reels off such gems as SSBN, FOSIC, USSTRATCOM, SIGNIT and NCIS.
The last one is easily recognizable because of the popularity of the television series. She carefully spells out each
abbreviation, but for a non-military type it might be difficult to keep track.
During Harris' 28-year career, she helped provide intelligence support for troops around the world from the Cold War
to Desert Storm. Harris' tour in the Navy is a good advertisement for its former recruiting phrase: Join the Navy
and see the world."
Leslie Doran is a local freelance writer whose book reviews have appeared in The Denver Post, numerous magazines and
other publications. Reach her at email@example.com.