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Woman Soldier Receives Silver Star for Valor in Iraq

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2005 – For the first time since World War II, a woman soldier was awarded the Silver Star Medal today in Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, vehicle commander, 617th Military Police Company, Richmond, Ky., stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star at an awards ceremony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, June 16. Hester is the first woman soldier since World War II to receive the Silver Star. Photo by Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Ky., received the Silver Star, along with two other members of her unit, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike, for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy. Other members of the unit also received awards.

Hester's squad was shadowing a supply convoy March 20 when anti-Iraqi fighters ambushed the convoy. The squad moved to the side of the road, flanking the insurgents and cutting off their escape route. Hester led her team through the "kill zone" and into a flanking position, where she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds. She and Nein, her squad leader, then cleared two trenches, at which time she killed three insurgents with her rifle.

When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured.

Hester, 23, who was born in Bowling Green, Ky., and later moved to Nashville, Tenn., said she was surprised when she heard she was being considered for the Silver Star.

"I'm honored to even be considered, much less awarded, the medal," she said.

Being the first woman soldier since World War II to receive the medal is significant to Hester. But, she said, she doesn't dwell on the fact. "It really doesn't have anything to do with being a female," she said. "It's about the duties I performed that day as a soldier."

Hester, who has been in the National Guard since April 2001, said she didn't have time to be scared when the fight started, and she didn't realize the impact of what had happened until much later.

"Your training kicks in and the soldier kicks in," she said. "It's your life or theirs. ... You've got a job to do -- protecting yourself and your fellow comrades."

Nein, who is on his second deployment to Iraq, praised Hester and his other soldiers for their actions that day. "It's due to their dedication and their ability to stay there and back me up that we were able to do what we did that day," he said.

Hester and her fellow soldiers were awarded their medals at Camp Liberty, Iraq, by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, Multinational Corps Iraq commanding general. In his speech, Vines commended the soldiers for their bravery and their contribution to the international war on terror.

"My heroes don't play in the (National Basketball Association) and don't play in the U.S. Open (golf tournament) at Pinehurst," Vines said. "They're standing in front of me today. These are American heroes."

Three soldiers of the 617th were wounded in the ambush. Hester said she and the other squad members are thinking about them, and she is very thankful to have made it through unscathed. The firefight, along with the entire deployment, has had a lasting effect on her, Hester said.

"I think about it every day, and probably will for the rest of my life," she said.

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