There was a time, way back in the early 90s, when I wanted to be a Marine. I was raised by one; one who had gone off to Notre Dame with the hopes of playing football and wound up signing up to serve in Vietnam. Five buddies actually signed up. My dad went for the Marines. His roommate for the Army Rangers. One became a SEAL. The other two also went Army: one Air Cavalry, the other Armored Cavalry. The last of the friends had chosen Armored Cavalry because he had gotten married while in college and had had a daughter. His thinking was that he wanted to serve and to “get in the fight.” But with a wife and new baby he figured doing it from the belly of a tank would be the safest place to fight. He was the only one of the five not to make it home.

My dad’s experience in that war helped shape my childhood. He wasn’t gung-ho and in fact didn’t put any pressure on his daughters to serve in the military. Whenever someone would recognize him for his service, whether it was at a barbeque or one of my school functions, he was appreciative of the nod but always quick to point out that there were other ways to serve. You can do it from behind a weapon, or from behind a soup counter helping the homeless, he would say. The point was simply to serve; to help those who might not be able to help themselves; to be a part of something greater than one’s self.

I don’t know why I lost track of that lesson. I actually did take the first baby steps to becoming a Marine: I went to the recruiting station in Boulder, Co, and then down to the Military Entrance Processing Station in downtown Denver where I passed the physical, and scored high on my PFT; the Physical Fitness Test required to even get in the door. But somewhere between that initial phase and actually becoming a true candidate for the Marine Corps, I allowed myself to get distracted. I simply became impatient with the process and when an opportunity to be a coach for a women’s ski camp became available, I took it rather than waiting to see what was behind Door #1.

When I try to imagine what life would have been like behind Door #1, I picture myself as having led a platoon of badass women Marines through some sort of fight that would have ultimately proven that women were fit to serve in combat. That reality was not mine to be had. It did however belong to Ashley White.

The Ohio native was one of the first women to be selected for a pilot program the Army had created called the Cultural Support Teams. In 2010 Admirals Eric Olson and William McRaven, both Navy SEALS and both leaders in the Special Operations Command, realized that there was a security gap in counterterrorism efforts because Afghan women would not speak with male soldiers. It was forbidden in the conservative Afghan culture. Because of this, both admirals realized important intelligence was being left on the battlefield and they began to circulate their ideas across all of the service branches. In early 2011 a call went out to Army bases across the country: “Female Soldiers–Become Part of History and join special ops on the battlefield in Afghanistan.”

White was in the first class of more than 200 female soldiers to answer that call. That number was ultimately whittled down to 55 due primarily to a training phase nicknamed ‘100 Hours of Hell’ when candidates marched up to 20 miles with 40-pound packs, had to bang-out 30 pull-ups at a time, and perform “buddy carries” where they had to lift and carry a male soldier on their back. All of this was done with little sleep.

In addition to the physical training, there were history lessons, language lessons and extensive training in Afghan cultural mores. The ultimate mission of the CST operator was to be attached to a special operations team and gather intelligence from the women of the site that was being raided. The 5”3’ White, whose superiors said was “sweet enough to be a Disneyland greeter” at the same time calling her a “quiet blond killer” graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.

Ashley White arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan in August of 2011. The newlywed was attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment, one of the most storied special-operations units in U.S. history. She and her team of CSTs quickly distinguished themselves: on one mission finding assault rifles buried under the feet of an Afghan woman; on another finding important intelligence documents stuffed in an infant’s soiled diaper.

On October 22nd, White and her Rangers went in search of a weapons maker. While clearing the compound, one of the soldiers triggered an improvised explosive device that killed White and two Rangers. She had just turned 24.

At a memorial service held in the gym of Ashley’s high school, the head of Army Special Operations Command addressed the hundreds that had come to the service. “Make no mistake about it: these women are warriors,” said General John Mulholland. “They absolutely will write a new chapter in the role of women soldiers in the U.S. Army and our military, and every single one of them has proven equal to the test. Every single one of them has not only met the standard, they have taken it to a new level; we have learned from them and we are humbled by them.”

We should all be humbled by them.