For my most recent novel, I wanted a lead character who was an action hero like Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne, Mitch Rapp, or Scot Horvath.
But my hero had to be a woman.
And she had to be believable.
After some research, I learned such women do exist in real life. They are special forces operators attached to the US Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment.
The US Army Ranger School is one of the most challenging military training programs in the world. It is designed to test the physical and mental limits of soldiers and push them to their breaking point. Once completing the challenging 8-week Ranger school, a soldier is considered “tabbed,” meaning they are allowed to wear a tab on their uniform above the unit patch marking them as a graduate.
Separately, soldiers may apply to attend the grueling Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP). From that group, a few elite soldiers are selected to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, at which point they are considered “scrolled,” meaning they are allowed to wear the 75th Regiment patch on the left side of their uniform. For those who are both “tabbed” and “scrolled,” it’s a distinction those who serve in the Army are keenly aware of.
Historically, the school was only open to men, but in 2015, the US Army opened the school to women. Since then, over 100 women have graduated, making them the first female Rangers in history. Especially inspiring are two pioneering individuals:
- Captain Kristen Griest: Griest, West Point graduate, was one of the first two women to graduate from the Ranger School in 2015. She is now a Captain in the US Army and serves as a platoon leader in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
- First Lieutenant Shaye Haver: Haver, also a West Point graduate, was the first woman to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School with a perfect score. She is now a First Lieutenant in the US Army and serves as a platoon leader in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Griest and Haver in their West Point uniforms and also during RASP training, with shaved heads, carrying male soldiers.
Captain Gries and First Lieutenant Haver, after graduation and in command.
These women and others like them are breaking down barriers and serving with courage and distinction. They bring a different perspective and skill set to the table. Also, they help diversify the military and make it more representative of the American people. Finally, they inspire other women to consider careers in the military.
Aware readers regularly devour fictional tales of male action heroes kicking butt and taking names, I wondered how they would react to a woman in similar circumstances. To avoid tired clichés, worn-out tropes, and stereotypes I didn’t want to repeat, I created some ground rules:
- No crying
- No tripping, stumbling, or falling while being chased
- No puking at the sight of gore
- No swooning
- No flirting
- No torn clothing gratuitously exposing body parts
- No handwringing while waiting to be rescued
With these guidelines in mind, I created a completely fictionalized character who is not based on any real person: FBI special agent Daniela Vega, former Army Ranger and military code breaker who became a federal agent assigned to New York City.
Fortunately, readers have responded enthusiastically. It seems there’s room for all kinds of heroes in fiction and in real life.
Who are your favorite fictional badass women?
Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning author Isabella Maldonado wore a gun and badge in real life before turning to crime writing. A graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico and the first Latina to attain the rank of captain in her police department, she retired as the Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics. During more than two decades on the force, her assignments included hostage negotiator, department spokesperson, and precinct commander. She uses her law enforcement background to bring a realistic edge to her writing, which includes the bestselling Special Agent Nina Guerrera series (which is being developed by Netflix for a feature film starring Jennifer Lopez), the Special Agent Dani Vega series, and the Detective Veranda Cruz series. Her books have been translated into 22 languages.