When Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver completed the US Army Ranger School course in August, it represented a milestone in the fight for total gender equality in the military. For those who doubted whether female soldiers could keep up with their male counterparts, this was a resounding “Hell Yeah”.
But it kinda feels like an anticlimax, because the issue of women in combat shouldn’t be an issue. Women have always fought in battle, even if they had to disguise themselves as men. And that’s where the main problem lies. Why should they ‘hide’ if they are willing to fight for their country?
Throughout history, women have proven themselves to be excellent soldiers as well as generals. Queen Boadicea led a major uprising against the Romans in 61 A.D; Lakshmibai was one of the leading figures in the Indian Rebellion of 1857; history is packed with examples. But till date, gender discrimination still persists.
Even though Griest and Haver have earned their elite warrior status, they’re still barred from direct ground combat, which is kinda the Rangers’ main thing. Pentagon policy is still keeping them away from doing what they just proved they’re good at. While the battle for equality is being fought in the halls of the Pentagon, lets take a minute to appreciate ten women who fought and earned some of the highest military honors possible.
10. Lieutenant Commander Kelly Larson
Larson joined the Coast Guard in 1984, and in 1986 became the first woman to complete Navy Rescue Swimmer School. In January 1989, she was flown over the Pacific on her first rescue case as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.
Her mission was to recover a Air National Guard jet pilot, who had bailed out during a training exercise. With sixteen-foot waves, a high wind and water temperature of 56OF, the conditions were deemed dangerous, but Mogk chose to go ahead with the mission.
Her job was complicated by the fact that the pilot was entangled in his parachute, suffering from hypothermia, couldn’t speak and had suffered injuries from the crash. This meant Mogk had to take off her gloves and dive below the surface to free the pilot. To ensure that the pilot got to hospital quickly, Mogk risked her life and waited in the cold water for backup transport. Her actions earned her the Air Medal from then president George Bush.
9. Lance Corporal Sarah Bushbye
While on patrol in December 2009, Bushbye’s 3 Rifles Battle Group set up a checkpoint in the Sangin district of Helmand province. Their position was thrown into chaos when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his device, at the checkpoint.
Despite the chaos that ensued, Bushbye’s medic training kicked in and she started to tend to her wounded colleagues. Quickly ascertaining that two soldiers were beyond help, she tried to save the lives of the remaining wounded four.
With ‘flagrant disregard for her own safety,’ she moved from solider to soldier, working to keep the men alive. Her actions saw her dash across open spaces with enemy bullets whizzing past, coordinating with the medical evac helicopter, even giving one of the wounded CPR.
Bushbye’s courage under fire and selflessness led to her being awarded the Military Cross. At the time, she was one of the youngest recipients and the third woman ever, to be awarded the Military Cross.
8. Army Specialist Monica Lin Brown
When Brown signed up on a lark in 2005, she never imagined she’d become the second woman, since WW II, to be awarded a Silver Star. While on patrol in 2007, a Humvee in Brown’s convoy hit a roadside bomb. With five soldiers wounded and the convoy getting shot at, the 19 year old medic swung into action. She ran through gunfire to the burning vehicle to assess the extent of injury sustained.
With a firefight raging around them, Brown and two less-injured soldiers tried to move the injured ones to a safer location. With the only safe spot 500 yards away, Brown and the medics resorted to dragging the injured men. Their movement caused the insurgents to start firing mortars at them. Brown shielded the soldier she was dragging with her body until another vehicle came to extract them.
Her ‘bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire’ led to her being awarded the Silver Star in 2008.
7. Lance Corporal Kylie Watson
Watson joined the Army in 2006, and following a study of battlefield medicine, she joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 2007. Her desire to help anyone who was hurt, led to her rescuing two people, on her very first tour in Afghanistan.
Whilst patrolling on foot, her platoon came under machine gun fire and one of their Afghan colleagues was shot. Watson immediately ran across 70 metres of open ground to reach the injured man. While the bullets whizzed over their heads, she stopped the bleeding and splintered his broken pelvis, before a helicopter arrived to airlift him.
Six months later, on another foot patrol, her platoon came under heavy fire and one soldier fell. Watson ignored the completely open ground and ran over to tend to his wounds. She gave medical care for 20 minutes, before he was airlifted out.
Awarded the Military Cross in 2011, she was cited for her ‘immense courage and willingness to put her own life at risk.’
6. Captain Ashley Collette
Yarmouth-born Collette had dreamed of becoming an air force pilot as a young girl. But after getting rejected by the Air Force, she enlisted in the Canadian Army. In 2010, she was deployed to Nakhonay, a remote Afghan village, with a platoon of 60 male soldiers.
Throughout their deployment, they faced daily attacks from insurgents, via machine gun fire, IEDs or suicide bombings. But through the eight month rotation, Captain Collette showed strength and leadership qualities. Her calmness under fire and get-it-done attitude were instrumental in ridding this key village of insurgents. When the tour ended, she was awarded the Medal of Military Valor, Canada’s third-highest military honor.
5. Major Mary Jennings Hegar
Hegar wanted to be an Air Force pilot since she was a little girl. She soon became an accomplished medevac pilot, flying three tours of Afghanistan. Flying in and out of combat zones, she helped save the lives of numerous soldiers and civilians.
On a 2007 mission to rescue three injured American soldiers, her helicopter was attacked and shrapnel impacted Hegar in 15 places. Unfazed, she continued her duties as co-pilot and they moved to the next pickup point. On their second landing, the enemy attacked again and managed to cripple the aircraft. The crew managed to set up a perimeter, and waited 20 minutes to be rescued.
As they were being airlifted out, Hegar manned the helicopter guns and laid suppressing fire to allow their safe exit. She was awarded the Purple Heart and is the sixth woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and only the second woman ever to receive it with the Valor Device.
4. Lance Corporal Michelle Norris
An interest in medicine set Norris up for a career in the Army medical Corps, when she joined up in 2004. The 19 year old, barely out of basic training, quickly embraced her job as a combat medical technician. On her first patrol in 2006, her convoy was ambushed by a two-hundred strong rebel army.
The intense firefight that followed resulted in the color sergeant getting shot in the face. With his body stuck in the turret, saving his life seemed impossible. Ignoring bullets and mortar fire, Norris dismounted and climbed on the vehicle to give him first aid. The round had gone straight through his rifle and into his face, through his cheek.
Despite the continued sniper fire and RPG attack, Norris managed to move the sergeant out of the turret and into the vehicle. She continued to patch his wounds and her actions are credited with saving Sergeant Ian Page’s life. For her gallantry during active operations, she became the first woman to be awarded a Military Cross.
3. Sergeant Monica Beltran
When Beltran enlisted in the Virginia National Guard, it was because she knew the Guard would help pay tuition through college. Ending up in Iraq at 19, wasn’t really part of the plan. But Beltran shaped up and quickly developed into a skilled gunner and driver. Her expertise was put to test on October 26 2005, when her convoy was attacked near Ashraf.
A succession of roadside bombs had put the Humvee ahead of hers out of commission. Reaching for the .50-caliber machine gun, she spotted the insurgents and started firing back. Insurgents responded with machine gun fire and RPGs, hitting her Humvee, but Beltran just kept shooting. She knew that as a gunner, it was her job to to suppress fire, as her convoy made its way out of the mile-long kill zone.
For her actions on that day, she was awarded the Bronze Star With Valor and the Purple Heart.
Her citation credited her courage for saving the lives of 54 other soldiers.
2. Able Seaman Kate Nesbitt
Six months into her first tour of Afghanistan, Nesbitt’s convoy was ambushed. In the battle that followed, her colleagues were hit by shrapnel and bullets. A colleague, Lance Corporal John List was struck in the jaw and was in danger of choking to death on his own blood.
Nesbitt ran 70 metres across open ground to where he fell, and immediately opened up a second airway so he could breathe. She treated him for 45 minutes, before other soldiers could clear the area and fly List to hospital.
Written up for showing courage under fire, Nesbitt became the second woman, first in the Royal Navy to be awarded the Military Cross, in 2009.
1. Sergeant First Class Leigh Ann Hester
The former shoe store manager had always wanted a career in uniform, whether it was the military or police. In 2001, she enlisted in the Army National Guard and shipped out in 2004. Hester was assigned to a military police unit; their job was to clear the critical supply routes and ensure sure convoys and supplies got through.
While shepherding one convoy in March 2005, Hester’s squad ran into an ambush. Over 50 enemy fighters lay in ditches along the road, firing machine-guns and RPGs at the convoy.
They had also blocked potential escape routes with abandoned cars.
Hester and her squad leader Sergeant Timothy Nein jumped out of their transport and launched an attack on foot. Using grenades, M203 grenade-launcher rounds and rifle fire, the two soldiers cleared two trenches. By the time the firefight ended, 27 Iraqis were killed, six wounded and one dead. In recognition of her conspicuous gallantry, she was awarded the Silver Star. The award made her the first female U.S. Army soldier to receive the medal since WW II.