Fort Meade media director helps African-American soldier write autobiography
By RYAN JUSTIN FOX, Staff Writer
In helping former U.S. Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson write her autobiography, Fort George G. Meade Media Relations Chief Mary L. Doyle not only exposed the world to the plight of the country’s first African-American female prisoner of war, but furthered Doyle’s own budding literary career.
It tells the story of Johnson, a single mother from Texas who was a part of a supply detail when her company was ambushed in Iraq just days after the U.S. invasion began.
Eleven members of Johnson’s company were killed. Six others, including Johnson and then 19-year-old soldier Jessica Lynch, were assaulted and taken prisoner by Iraqi forces on March 23, 2003. Johnson was shot in both legs during the attack. The American prisoners were freed by Marines several weeks later.
Though Johnson was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, her capture was largely ignored and overshadowed in the media and among military leadership by Lynch’s captivity.
The incident touched off a firestorm of controversy about racism in the military and the media. Reports surfaced that Lynch received a more lucrative book deal and larger disability payments than Johnson.
“I was shocked at how open (Johnson) was,” Doyle said. “She really bared her soul about the ambush and her captivity.”
Doyle, 50, spent several days at Johnson’s El Paso, Texas, home while preparing to write the book. Doyle was not the first choice to write Johnson’s autobiography.
Johnson originally signed a deal with another publishing company and author before parting ways with them and signing with publishing giant Simon & Schuster.
Doyle, an Army reservist for 17 years who spent time in Bosnia, had just returned to work for Fort Meade’s Public Affairs Office after working in Korea for the Armed Forces Network. She was also putting the finishing touches on her own novel.
Writing has long been a passion for Doyle. She said she always wrote short stories and screenplays. She has a personal blog dedicated to writing.
The Minneapolis native signed with a book agent to shop her novel around. Doyle’s agent wasn’t having much luck with her murder mystery but was able to land the deal with Simon & Schuster to pen Johnson’s story last year.
Doyle said the book details the unimaginable emotional stress Johnson suffered from the ambush and capture.
“People don’t realize how a military unit is like a family,” Doyle said.
She also describes the relationship between Johnson and Lynch. There have been reports that Johnson has animosity toward Lynch, but Doyle said that isn’t true. The two travel to memorial services and other events together, she said.
But Johnson said in the book that several commanders and fellow soldiers at Fort Bliss, where she was assigned, began resenting the star treatment she and other POWs received when they returned home. The ordeal forced Johnson to resign from the Army. She was eventually granted an honorable discharge.
“I’m Still Standing” has already been featured on the “Today Show” and other major media outlets.
Doyle said she hopes to eventually be able to write books and novels full-time.
“I love working for Fort Meade, but I love writing,” she said.