Saturday, November 21, 2009

35. Emma and Iraq

Dear Followers,

It's been a busy post-birthday pre-Thanksgiving week. Kravis Center concert, three different parties, and a book talk all kept me away from the blog, but I'm back with the story of yet another Self-Empowered Woman.

I was intrigued by a story on the front page of today's Palm Beach Post about rebuilding Iraq that bore the headline "$53 billion spent since 2003 - and little to show for it." So it seemed like the perfect time to introduce you to 41 year old Emma Sky, a British civilian who has become a chief advisor to the American Army commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

From ages seven to thirteen, Sky (an only child) attended a boys boarding school in England because her stepfather was on the faculty and her mother was a house mother. She later attended Oxford's Somerville College (one of the two previous all women's schools) where both Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher had studied.

Sky spent almost a decade in Israel and the West Bank working for peace between the Israelies and Palestinies. After she returned to England she worked for the British Council, which is an arm of the foreign office, but volunteered to work in Iraq as an advisor on Kurdish issues after the U.S. invasion. She lived in a home in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk until a mortar shell came through a bedroom wall and prompted her move to the army base.

General Odierno was the commanding general at that time, and the tiny anti-war English woman and the bear-like American learned to bounce ideas and strategies off each other. Sky moved back to the U.K. in 2004, but when Odierno was promoted in 2006, he asked her to return.

Sky - who speaks Arabic and Hebrew - has grown to admire the U.S. military even though she once described them "like a great crashing beast." And Odierno has come to rely upon her knowledge of the area and the factors that affect the war. Her job has been to second-guess him.

It's hard to imagine a British female Infantry Division Advisor in any other American war, but Sky's influence has had a profoundly positive impact on both the military and Iraqi civilians.

Looking forward to your comments...

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