Asha Castleberry says she felt so isolated during her Army training that she almost gave up on her military career before it even began. She had an officer who didn’t like the way she looked and expressed it openly to his cadre. She says she believes it was because she didn’t look like the rest of her platoon, the majority of whom were white males.
She recalls, “I felt very isolated. And after that experience, I was quite depressed about it.”
Castleberry found the strength to continue serving because she realized how much she liked the professionalism in the military. She says she wanted to prove herself and lead troops. She ended up serving from 2002 to 2016. Three of those years were spent in the Middle East, where she worked on security cooperation as well as counter-ISIS missions in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.
She found that her background growing up in a bilingual household ended up being an asset that many of her fellow soldiers did not have. Her Spanish-speaking skills came in handy when she was deployed in Nicaragua, as did her quick ability to pick up on Arabic in the Middle East.
Despite her natural affinity for the Army and her leadership skills, she says that “about 50 percent of my mission, I had to prove myself.” It was after about a year into her service that her superiors started to realize she had what it takes.
When she came back home, Castleberry says, she wanted to enter the world of national security. There she found a glass ceiling that was even harder to break through. She says she wanted to channel her extensive experience serving abroad into national security and foreign policy and engage with the national dialogue on those issues. Yet, she says, “there’s a monolithic community that speaks on the media all the time about national security. ... You are seeing once in a while someone of color talk about national security, but again, it’s still dominated by a monolithic community of older white males.”
Today she teaches at Baruch College and speaks at conferences around the country, but she says the fight for visibility for female vets of color still has a long way to go.
As Castleberry acknowledges, in the United States, “I have two strikes against me, being a woman and being a woman of color.”