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Heroes Turn Out for Exhibit Opening at Army Women's Museum

By Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy, USA
American Forces Press Service

FORT LEE, Va., Feb. 5, 2007 – The first woman to win the Silver Star Medal for direct actions against an enemy force turned out for the opening of the Global War on Terrorism exhibit Feb. 3 at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, left, reads about the Global War on Terrorism exhibit featuring her actions as a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 617th Military Police Company at the Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Va., during the exhibition's opening, Feb. 3. Hester is the first woman to earn the Silver Star medal for direct actions against an enemy force. She earned the award during action March 20, 2005, near Baghdad. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy, USA

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

The exhibit showcases contributions women have made during the war.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester made history when she earned the medal during actions March 20, 2005, while reacting to an ambush by insurgents near Baghdad. She is also the first woman to earn the award since World War II.

Hester and most of the other members of her squad from the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 617th Military Police Company, to which she was assigned when the action occurred, were present for the exhibit’s opening. It was the first time they had all been together in more than a year, Hester said.

The exhibit’s centerpiece is a life-size diorama of the squad's actions.

Others in the unit also received the Silver Star, including Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, the squad leader, whose award has recently been upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor. The Distinguished Service Cross ranks is second only to the Medal of Honor.

While the exhibit focuses on the actions of Hester and Nein, both soldiers emphasized that the entire squad worked together to succeed.

“It wasn’t one person’s actions that day,” Hester said. “It was us as a team. You know, I wouldn’t be standing here today without these guys having had my back that day.”

The squad, call sign Raven 42, was escorting a convoy near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, when the convoy came under heavy fire. Acting without hesitation, the Guard soldiers drove their vehicles between the insurgents and the convoy. Hester and Nein dismounted from their armored Humvees and led the counterattack against the ambush. Twenty-seven insurgents were killed, and seven were captured.

Two soldiers in the squad were wounded during the engagement, which lasted roughly 30 minutes. But it could have been far worse, because the insurgents had getaway vehicles pre-positioned with open doors and trunks. They also had handcuffs, perhaps indicating they intended to take prisoners.

While Hester was quick to downplay her role during the counterattack, others feel she did much more than simply her job.

“It’s amazing,” said Pat Sigle, director of the Army Women’s Foundation, which oversaw the funding for the exhibit. “I hope she understands, and I think in time she will, just how amazing that team was, how they all came out alive, how they pulled together and did what they were supposed to do.”

The fact that Hester is a woman who has served in a combat zone, and in direct combat action, has been highlighted by many people. But it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary to her. It was just another aspect of life in the squad, she said.

“I believe everybody in my squad changed a lot of minds,” she said. “Not just me. We’re a blend of several different cultures, and being a woman, to me, is just one of those cultures. It makes no difference. If you can do the job, you can do the job. Some people can, and some people can’t.”

Others in the squad agreed.

“A hundred years ago, I guarantee our forefathers would never have thought a squad that was as successful as we were that day could come from so many different backgrounds and look so different physically,” said Sgt. Jason L. Mike, an African-American medic assigned to the unit who also was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

While many in attendance expressed awe at the actions of Hester, Nein, Mike and the others in Raven 42, the squad members stood in awe of the exhibit that depicts their actions.

“They did an outstanding job,” said Hester. “It’s amazing what they did. I believe it captures the actions of March 20, 2005, very well.”

But, for Hester, it still comes down to just the squad’s soldiers doing their jobs that day.

“There’s a lot of soldiers that are doing this job right now,” she said. “Right this minute, right now, they’re doing now what we were doing then, and they’re not getting the credit they deserve. Look at the big picture. We did great one day, but there are people doing that every day. Don’t lose sight of that.”

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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