This soldier's skill had nothing to do with gender

But now, they've learned it with blood. About 150 women in the U.S. armed forces have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pavlichenko was a teenager from Ukraine. She could shoot. And she didn't want to become a nurse. According to "Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper" by Martin Pegler, her superiors suggested nursing was good for girls.

"I joined the Army at a time when women were not yet accepted — I had the option of becoming a nurse but I refused," she said.

Pavlichenko was one of thousands of women snipers trained by the Soviets during that time. She joined the Red Army's 25th Infantry Division. Her first kill came when a friend of hers, a young man, was shot in the stomach by Hitler's troops.

"God couldn't stop me," she said, and in just 10 months she scored an astounding 187 confirmed kills. According to Pegler's book — and many others written about Pavlichenko and the Soviet female snipers — she had a singular subspecialty:

Countersniping.

She'd hunt the hunters.

By the time she was done, more than 300 soldiers were dead.

After recovering from mortar wounds, she visited America, met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later received an engraved Winchester.

Woody Guthrie, like others of the left in thrall with the Soviets during the war, wrote a song about her, "In summer's heat or winter's snow / In all kinds of weather she tracks down the foe."

She also visited Chicago in 1942, and an unfortunate Chicago Tribune article referred to the then-26-year-old as the famed "girl sniper." It mentioned her crimson fingernail polish.

But it wasn't what was on her fingers that counted.

It was what was under them, particularly the trigger under her index finger, that mattered.

And that had nothing to do with gender.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

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