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June 18, 2005

Real Heros

Thanks to our friends in the media, when we think of female American soldiers in Iraq, we think of people like Army Private Jessica Lynch. Pvt. Lynch, as you all recall, became a media sensation and genuine American Hero as result of being captured by Iraqi forces after her (support) unit took a wrong turn during the early days of the invasion. What did she do to deserve such fame and adoration? Well, she was a woman, a soldier, and a victim. And in contemporary American society, we all know that being a victim trumps all.

Contrast the yellow ribbon frenzy for Jessica Lynch with the story of National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, who last Thursday became the first woman to be awarded a Silver Star since WWII. I had to read about her gallantry under fire in The Scotsman, where Jacqui Goddard described her actions in combat as follows:

Sgt Hester, whose regular job is as a supervisor in a shoe shop in Nashville, Tennessee, was deployed to Iraq last November as part of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit based in her home state of Kentucky.

At about midday on 20 March, the unit was providing a security escort for a 30-truck civilian supply convoy when it was ambushed at Salman Pak, 20 miles south-east of Baghdad by guerrillas armed with assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Gunfire and explosions erupted as the insurgents opened fire from an orchard and irrigation trenches.

Sgt Hester - a vehicle commander - led her squad of Humvee armoured vehicles straight through the line of fire and into the "kill zone" along a dirt track flanking the enemy positions, cutting off their escape route.

Spraying bullets from her M4 rifle and firing grenades from an M203 launcher, she and a colleague, Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein, 36, scrambled from their vehicles, took cover behind an embankment and then slipped into one of the enemy trenches. Their attackers were just 150 yards further along.

"It was crazy, adrenaline pumping," Sgt Hester told the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. "You didn't have time to think about everything that was going on. It was kill or be killed."

The pair worked their way along the trench "foot by foot, step by step," with Sgt Hester personally shooting dead three of the insurgents.

"Bullets were flying everywhere," she recalled in a separate interview. "I could hear them pinging off the truck."

By the end of the 90-minute battle, 27 guerrillas lay dead, six were wounded and one captured. Three members of Sgt Hester's unit were injured.

Maybe if she hadn't been so damn effective, she'd have had Wolf Blitzer camping outside her house, begging for an interview.


Update

The perils of late night posting; I did not do a search for media coverage of Sgt Hester here in the US. Yesterday's NYT did have a nice article by Eric Schmitt covering her medal ceremony. Also, ABC News had some good coverage of the original firefight back in March. Mea culpa for implying that the US media had failed to adequately cover the story of this woman's courage and determination.

June 18, 2005 at 12:28 AM | Permalink

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