Explosives expert becomes second British woman to die in Afghanistan conflict

Capt. Lisa Jade Head

The British Ministry of Defence reported earlier this week that Captain Lisa Jade Head, a bomb disposal expert stationed in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, had become the second British woman to be killed in the war in Afghanistan. Head was 29, and hailed from West Yorkshire. She was killed while diffusing a roadside bomb.

Since the details of her death were released, tributes have been pouring in. Head, it seems, was a vivacious young woman who loved her job despite its dangers, and who was really good at it. Her commanding officer said that she would be remembered “as a passionate, robust and forthright individual who enjoyed life to the full – be it at work, on the sporting field or at the bar.” Another colleague said that Head “typified the spirit of the ammunition technical officer, making the long and lonely walk into the face of danger and adversity for the sake of others.”

Too often, when we think about war, we think about men. We think about men in suits making decisions in Washington, and men in uniform with their boots on the ground. We think about young men being radicalized and throwing Molotov cocktails. The reality, of course, is that war has never been only a man’s game.

Even when women aren’t on the front lines, as they are in increasing numbers these days, it is women who keep the home front running, and women who mourn the loss of fathers, brothers and husbands. It is women whose rights are invoked to justify going to war, and women whose lives are shattered when rape becomes a weapon of war. And now, it is women who die in combat – albeit, in smaller numbers than men. Head is the 364th Briton to die in Afghanistan. Women fight, women die and women should be remembered for their courage and commitment.

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

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  1. Posted April 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Despite my opposition to war, I still recognize the contributions of those in harm’s way, regardless of what their gender may be. Any time anyone dies, the tragedy is multiplied. One Friend I know, a woman, is in charge of getting retroactive C.O. status for soldiers who enlist, then wish to be discharged because they have moral reservations about service. But it is only offered should they, male or female, reach out first.

  2. Posted April 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I understand that women are seldom recognized as an important part of a military’s force, but a soldier lost to war is lost, man or woman. Death in the name of war is tragic whichever gender the person happens to be. She was “the 364th Briton to die,” her life was not any more or less significant than her fellow soldiers in the field. Highlight her not just because she’s a woman (emphasis on “woman”) who died in the field, but because of her heroic actions and leadership. You say that “too often when we think about war, we think about men”–well, how then are you proposing that we think about Head as a woman? Well, when you frame your post by saying “war has never been only a man’s game” and that women have done the work of war by “keeping the home front running” and that “women’s rights have been invoked to justify war” you’re describing a different kind of framework for women and war than I think is useful for understanding Head as a woman figure of war. The fact is, she wasn’t a homemaker missing her beloved, her name wasn’t being used to justify a war, and she didn’t suffer rape or any other kind of abuse for taking part in a war. She was kickass because she offered her services voluntarily, in the same way that many men do, although as a woman, this isn’t something that’s part in parcel of her gender role, making her a minority. As you say, she is a woman who fought, and who died, and should be remembered. Yet, the evidence you use to elaborate on her role lumps her in with women as involuntary victims of war, as if anytime a woman dies in the field, she has to become some kind of martyr. I wonder–is this necessary? Is she being highlighted solely because she is a woman and if so couldn’t you focus on a woman who is already serving in the military not on one who has passed, making her death the only occasion on which to talk about her as a hero? This kind of rhetoric oddly has the potential both to elevate a woman’s service above that of a man’s and to downplay her position as only notable in death–and I get that you feel compelled to use it because women are so seldom recognized–but doing this is in some ways is less nuanced than not acknowledging her at all. I wonder if anyone else has any other thoughts on the subtle distinctions I’m picking up on, and whether they’re worth making?

  3. Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Will there be a “Hurt Locker” film about this woman, or one like her?
    I doubt it.

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