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June 1, 2016

Profiles in Courage: Heroines Under Fire

by dianeshort2014

On July 29, 1918, field nurse Linnie Leckrone jumped on a truck headed for the front as part of Gas and Shock Team 134 in the battle of Chateau-Thierry northeast of Paris during the Great War. As German artillery rained down, she tended the wounded. For her “conspicuous gallantry in action,” Leckrone was awarded what was then called the Citation Star in a certificate signed by Gen. John (Black Jack) Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.

She was one of only three women to earn the Citation Star in World War I, but she left the service before she received the award. She was also unaware that the Army in 1932 made recipients of the Citation Star eligible for the new Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor.

Her courageous service was finally recognized posthumously on July 31, 2007 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va. when her daughter Mary Jane Bolles Reed accepted a Silver Star in her place.

An unknown number of women received the Silver Star in World War II. In 1944, four Army nurses serving in Italy – First Lieutenant Mary Roberts, Second Lieutenant Elaine Roe, Second Lieutenant Rita Virginia Rourke, and Second Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth (posthumous) – became the first women recipients of the Silver Star since World War I. All were cited for their bravery in evacuating the 33rd Field Hospital at Anzio, Italy on February 10, 1944.

The first woman soldier since World War II to receive the Silver Star – and the first ever to be cited for valor in close quarters combat – was Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester.

Hester’s military career began in April 2001 when the 19 year old from Bowling Green, Kentucky enlisted in the Army Nation Guard. As she was awaiting notification on where and when she would to go to basic training, the 9/11 terrorists crashed commercial airliners in the Trade Center and the Pentagon. When she was at basic training, she and the other recruits were told by the drill sergeants that they would be the ones to go to war. That happened in July 2004 when she received orders for Iraq.

After arriving in Iraq, her unit – the 617th Military Police Company Kentucky Army National Guard unit out of Richmond, Kentucky – took up the task of providing security to truck convoys.

On Mar. 20, 2005 just south of Baghdad, the squad was shadowing a 30-truck supply convoy. As convoy slid by Salman Pak, Iraq, the squad leader, Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein, came on the phone to report the insurgents had attacked one of the vehicles ahead. The Humvees immediately sped up and raced down the length of the convoy on the shoulder of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route.

As Raven-42 swung into action, the gunners on each Humvee started laying down suppressing fire with an M2HB .50-caliber machine gun, a Mk. 19 40 mm grenade launcher, and an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The insurgents were using a pair of dry irrigation ditches parallel to the road as an expedient trench line. From behind effective cover, they began directing fire at the MPs using Kalashnikov automatic rifles, belt-fed machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

One of the Humvees was struck by an RPG, wounding the three soldiers inside. In the rear vehicle, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein dismounted and dashed toward a nearby berm as the enemy’s bullets sliced the air around him. Five-foot-four Hester followed him. From the cover of the berm, the two opened fire with their Colt M4s. Hester also had an M203 Grenade Launcher and pumped out several 40 mm high explosive rounds. Other team members were either treating the wounded, or firing one of the mounted crew-served weapons. The two MPs treating the wounded on the ground behind the rear Humvee then came under sniper fire as the skirmish continued to escalate. Both soldiers responded by firing toward the farmhouse where the sniper was hiding.

With the fire of the .50-cal. machine gun and the SAW beginning to thump away at the enemy’s flank, Nein and Hester laid down a continuous volume of fire at the 10 insurgents in the closest ditch. Since their ammunition supply would run out long before a relief force could get to them, the two had only one real option: attack.

Vehicle-mounted weapons forced the enemy to keep down their heads while Nein and Hester rushed forward tossing grenades and firing their M4s. Swiftly moving down ditch, the two MPs overwhelmed the enemy. In that assault, Hester killed three insurgents.

At the end of the 30-minute long engagement, the battlefield was found littered with 24 dead and six wounded insurgents. One unwounded Iraqi was taken prisoner after apparently feigning injury in order to avoid the battle. In addition to that, the MPs collected an impressive haul of weapons and ammunition: 22 Kalashnikov rifles, six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 16 rockets, 13 RPK-type light machine guns, insurgents with her M4 Carbine and a fourth with a 40 mm HE round from her M203 three PKM belt-fed machine guns, 40 hand grenades, and a mountain of small arms ammunition – 123 loaded AK magazines and 25,000 rounds of belted 7.62x54r for the PKMs.

Sergeants Hester and Nein were both awarded the Silver Star. Sgt. Nein’s was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.

Also awarded the Silver Star in this ambush was platoon combat medic Specialist Jason Mike, who took up and simultaneously fired an M4 carbine and M249 SAW light machine gun in defense of his comrades.

Hester took a brief break from the U.S. Army in 2009, and worked as a civilian law enforcement officer in a Nashville, Tennessee suburb. However, she returned to the military a short while later, in late 2010.

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