"My ballet shoes were about to be swapped for combat boots, despite those who doubted my capabilities."

From basic training to officer candidate school to military intelligence education to overseas positions, Rakowski shares the highs and lows of becoming a female U.S. Army intelligence officer. A trained classical ballet teacher and dancer in Poland, she searched for a similar passion upon immigrating to the USA in 1995. In 1999, U.S. Armed Forces flyers inspired her transformation from “a delicate ballerina into a hard-core U.S. Army soldier.”

Atmospheric writing (the “shadow of a lonely tree” moved in a “sinister wind”) blends with vivid interior emotions on a journey that mingles pride, fear, doubt, joy, humor, and sheer determination. Rakowski’s narrative is studded with specificity, breathing life into the author’s grueling, self-selected search to be part of something bigger than herself. Knee-crawling agonies of basic training and punishing battlefield training in Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains among chiggers, poison ivy, and poison sumac (while loaded down with Kevlar gear, an M60 machine gun, and an M16 rifle) conjure visceral fatigue and stress. From crawling through a trench under a barrage of low-flying ammunition to feeling the hand of death in simulations too close to reality, Rakowski gives readers a look into a world seldom seen.

Rakowski shares vulnerability best when pitting fear of failure against the push to excel, involving the reader in the heart of tumultuous decisions: stay or run away; give in to depression, loneliness, and fatigue or push through to euphoria. Especially uplighting are the passages where her steely determination, shored up by the faith and support from her colleagues, helps Rakowski find her inner strength. Rakowski paints a vivid, detailed portrait of the mental, physical, and emotional challenges she faced in becoming a U.S. Army intelligence officer, and the reward of being part of “something bigger than myself.” Her inspiring tale is not to be missed.

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