December 18, 2009
The video begins like so many others. Above a bright blue sky – below, a dusty tortured terrain of brown and green. The place is Salman Pak on the outskirts of Baghdad on March 20, 2005. The sounds of Kalashnikov and RPG fire has become the familiar staccato background in a scene that we think will end the way that so many others have. Suddenly the mood changes – three up-armored HMMWVs careen into view laying down hellish suppressive fire while being pounded by dozens of rounds from the hot barrels of determined insurgents. The viewer can almost smell the sweat and fear as the insurgents mutter “Allah-hu-Akbar” whilst advancing on a convoy of supply trucks. Within moments the video upends and skews wildly before going blank. This was the beginning of a battle that would see the first Silver Star Medal awarded to a female Soldier since World War II. Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of the Kentucky National Guard’s 617th Military Police Company (Combat Support), in Iraq made history by doing exactly what she was trained to do - locate, close with and destroy the enemy. While certain influential persons in Big Army would see the role of women in combat rolled back, SGT Hester proved that not only were females in combat a reasonable proposition – but a winning one.
That sunny Sunday afternoon saw another “routine” supply convoy of 30 tractor-trailers moving slowly down an alternate supply route southeast of Baghdad. The drivers of the supply trucks were mostly Turks and were non-combatants. Escorted by a squad of Soldiers in three HMMWVs, the convoy came under intense fire from the right side of the road. Using a burnt out fuel truck 4 that was the victim of a previous ambush as a marker, up to 50 insurgents planned on making this another terrible day in the history of the US occupation of Iraq. They were armed with Kalashnikovs, machine guns, RPGs and grenades7. They brought a hand held video camera and handcuffs. These men meant to make this ambush a media spectacle. Within seconds of initiating the ambush, three of the escorting US Soldiers were injured and pinned down, their vehicle disabled by intense small arms and RPG fire. Three of the truck drivers were killed and another six were wounded. The insurgents began moving forward, keeping up their fire on the convoy and crossing the field to try to take prisoners7.
“Raven 42”, the call sign of the National Guard MP squad, had been following the supply convoy on a presence patrol and realized what was happening far in front of them. Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein ordered his squad forward. They drove their up-armored HMMWVs into the kill zone to draw the fire of the insurgents and got what they were looking for. As they screened the beleaguered supply convoy the gunners laid down suppressive fire as they moved to flank the attackers. The second vehicle (Raven 42) took an RPG round and the gunner was knocked unconscious for a few moments. Raven 42 stopped, placing the squad online, broadsides to the enemy. The gunners in the lead (Raven 42B) and rear (Raven 42A) trucks continued to lay down withering fire on the enemy in the trenches, around their vehicles and the small building that the enemy occupied. All three Soldiers from the Raven 42A were injured as the driver and team leader dismounted to fight. As the Medic riding in 42B and the driver from 42 performed life saving first aid on the crew of 42A, their squad leader, SSG Nein and 42B’s team leader SGT Hester moved to clear the trenches7.
Nein and Hester battled intensely in the L-shaped trenches that protected the insurgents. Tossing hand grenades, firing grenades from her M203 and laying down automatic fire with her M4 carbine, Hester soon ran out of ammunition. Raven 42’s gunner, now revived, laid down suppressive fire, covering Hester as she ran back to the vehicles to get more ammo. Meanwhile the squad medic and the gunner in 42A both ready AT-4, 84mm anti-tank rockets to fire at the sniper hide in the building. As they shout “BACK-BLAST AREA CLEAR!” Specialist Ashley Pullen, who had sprinted 300 meters, under fire to provide aid to the bleeding team leader, threw her body over that of the wounded Soldier just in time to protect him from the searing blast of the rocket launch.
Nein and Hester completed the trench clearing as the gunners in the parked vehicles finished off the remaining resistance with a few well aimed bursts of machine gun fire and even some pistol fire. Another squad from the 716th MP CO pulled up as reinforcements and helped secure the perimeter, police up the enemy and aid the wounded. In the end, four American Soldiers were wounded from Raven 42, but at a high cost for the insurgents; 27 Killed, six wounded and one more captured unhurt7. Each Soldier in Raven 42 received a medal for Valor, but especially telling were the two Silver Star Medals presented to Nein and Hester for their initiative and bravery in clearing the trench lines. Hester played a decisive role in the battle killing at least five of the insurgents herself and taking the fight into the trenches so that the gunners and others could concentrate on targets that were further away.
Hester did not just earn herself a place in the history of her unit, regiment and the Army, but she opened many eyes in the Pentagon as well. The predominant view that had been held for time immemorial on women in combat was just shattered. Not since a few brave nurses were awarded the Silver Star in WWII had women been so honored. Hester proved that women could and would take the fight to the enemy and not just do their duty, but do more than could be expected. Hester’s words would be immortalized on the Women’s War Memorial in Washington DC:
“This award doesn’t have anything to do with being a female. It’s about the duties I performed that day as a Soldier.” 
Giving testament to the fact that she is a Soldier first – doing her duty. However, her courage would be instrumental in winning another battle for all Soldiers. The “Combat Action Badge” would soon be approved for all combatants seeing actual combat regardless of duty description or sex thus bringing some parity in recognition to all Soldiers who face the enemy, a task once seen as the sole purview of the men in the infantry.
Blankenship, Jane. "Kentucky MP Undergoes Baptism of Fire." Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine, Online, March, 2006. http://www.vfw.org/resources/levelxmagazine/0603_Kentucky%20MP%20Ann%20Hester.pdf. (accessed November 19, 2009).
Women In Military Service For America Memorial. "Voices of Valor - An American Hero: Army Woman Earns Silver Star And Makes History." March, 2008. http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/WHM08KitUSA.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
Smith, W. Thomas. "Attention To Orders!." Castle Argghhh!, April 22, 2005. http://thedonovan.com/archives/004161.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
Associated Press. "'Emotional Rollercoaster' Hits War Hero." USA Today, December 2, 20006. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-02-pullen-iraq_x.htm. (accessed November 19, 2009).
Brant, Martha. "The Case Against Women In Combat." Newsweek, October 24, 2007. http://www.newsweek.com/id/61568/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
"After Action Report - Raven 42 Ambushed!." BlackFive Media, March 25, 2005. http://www.blackfive.net/main/2005/03/after_action_re.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
Wood, Sara. "Woman Soldier Receives Silver Star For Valor In Iraq." United States Department Of Defense News, June 16, 2005. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=16391/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
Iraqi Insurgents. "Insurgent Video of Raven 42." Youtube, March 20, 2005. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zUiVUpM3v0/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Common name for the assault rifle designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, the “Automat Kalashnikov model of 1947” or AK-47, in this case used to describe all rifles of that style regardless of manufacturer or model designation.
 “Rocket Propelled Grenade”, a common portable anti-tank and anti-personnel, in this case used to describe all rocket launchers of that style regardless of manufacturer or model designation.
 “High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle”, the standard wheeled personnel carrier used by the US Armed Forces, pronounced “Humvee” or “Hummer” in this case used to describe all trucks of that style regardless of model designation.
 Iraqi Insurgents, "Insurgent Video of Raven 42," YouTube, March 20, 2005, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zUiVUpM3v0/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Sara Wood, "Woman Soldier Receives Silver Star For Valor In Iraq," United States Department Of Defense News, June 16, 2005, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=16391/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Martha Brant, "The Case Against Women In Combat," Newsweek, October 24, 2007, http://www.newsweek.com/id/61568/ (accessed November 19, 2009).
 "After Action Report - Raven 42 Ambushed!," BlackFive Media, March 25, 2005, http://www.blackfive.net/main/2005/03/after_action_re.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Associated Press, "'Emotional Rollercoaster' Hits War Hero," USA Today, December 2, 20006, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-02-pullen-iraq_x.htm. (accessed November 19, 2009).
 This article was originally published in the now defunct "Militaryweek.com" and is no longer available, the information was gleaned from the listed website as well as Smiths personal blog "NOTES from the BIG CHAIR", http://wtsjrthisweek.blogspot.com/2005_04_01_archive.html, W. Thomas Smith, "Attention To Orders!," Castle Argghhh!, April 22, 2005, http://thedonovan.com/archives/004161.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Women In Military Service For America Memorial, March, 2008, "Voices Of Valor - An American Hero: Army Woman Earns Silver Star And Makes History," http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/WHM08KitUSA.html. (accessed November 19, 2009).
 Jane Blankenship, "Kentucky MP Undergoes Baptism of Fire," Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine, Online, March, 2006, http://www.vfw.org/resources/levelxmagazine/0603_Kentucky%20MP%20Ann%20Hester.pdf. (accessed November 19, 2009).
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