Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, photographed at Camp Liberty, Iraq, is the first female soldier to be awarded the Silver Star Medal since World War II. A native of Kentucky, the 23-year-old joined the National Guard on April 20, 2001, and currently resides in Nashville, Tenn. She and seven other soldiers from the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 617th Military Police Company were cited for gallantry in action against anti-Iraq forces on March 20, 2005. SSgt. Timothy Nein, her squad leader, and Spc. Jason Mike, a medic, also were awarded Silver Star Medals; Spc. Casey Cooper, Spc. William Haynes II and Spc. Ashley Pullen were awarded Bronze Star Medals with “V” Devices; and Sgt. Dustin Morris and Spc. Jesse Ordunez were awarded Army Commendation Medals with “V” Devices. Sgt. Hester, while noting the honor of being the first woman to receive the Silver Star since World War II, said at the time of her award ceremony, “It doesn’t have anything to do with being a female. It’s about the duties I performed that day as a soldier.”
The narrative accompanying Sgt. Hester’s citation reads:
Sergeant Leigh A. Hester is cited for conspicuous gallantry in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with anti Iraq forces (AIF) as a team leader for Raven 42B, 617th Military Police Company, 503rd Military Police Battalion (Airborne) stationed at Camp Liberty, Iraq on 20 March 2005, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The team’s mission was to assist Raven 42 in searching the Eastern Convoy Route for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and provide additional security to sustainment convoys traveling through their area of responsibility.
While patrolling Alternate Supply Route (ASR) Detroit, Raven 42B was shadowing a sustainment convoy consisting of 30 third country national (TCN) semi-tractor trailers with a three vehicle squad size escort, call sign Stallion 33, traveling from LSA (logistics support area) Anaconda to CSC (convoy support center) Scania. The weather for this ASR patrol was 75 degrees and sunny with a 10 knot breeze from the southwest. While traveling on ASR Detroit approximately 50 AIF ambushed the convoy with heavy AK47 fire, RPK heavy machine gun fire, and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) from the southwest side of the road at 1140 hours. The AIF were utilizing irrigation ditches and an orchard for the well planned complex attack. The AIF had cars combat parked along a road perpendicular to the ASR with all doors and trunks open. The AIF intent was to destroy the convoy, to inflict numerous casualties, and to kidnap several TCN drivers or U.S. Soldiers.
The initial ambush disabled and set on fire the lead TCN vehicle, which effectively blocked the southbound lanes of ASR Detroit, stopping the convoy in the kill zone. The squad leader, SSgt. [Timothy] Nein, directed the squad to move forward, traveling on the right shoulder and passing through the engagement area between the enemy and the convoy. Sgt. Hester directed her gunner to provide heavy volumes of MK 19 and M240B fires into the field where an overwhelming number of insurgents were executing a well coordinated ambush on the convoy. Raven 42 elements were outnumbered five to one. SSgt. Nein ordered the squad to flank the insurgents on their right side.
The squad continued to come under heavy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenade fire when Sgt. Hester stopped her vehicle, the middle vehicle, at a flanking position enfilading the trench line and the orchard field where over a dozen insurgents were engaging the squad and convoy. She then directed her gunner to focus fires in the trench line and the orchard field. Sgt. Hester dismounted and moved to what was thought to be the non-contact side of the vehicle. She ordered her gunner to continue to fire on the orchard field as she and her driver engaged insurgents in the orchard field with small arms. Sgt. Hester began engaging the insurgents with her M203 in order to suppress the heavy AIF fire.
Sgt. Hester followed SSgt. Nein to the right side berm and threw two well placed fragmentation grenades into the trench eliminating the AIF threat. Sgt. Hester and SSgt. Nein went over the berm into the trench and began clearing the trench with their M4s. Sgt. Hester engaged and eliminated three AIF to her front with her M4. They then made their way to the front trench and cleared that as well. After clearing the front trench cease fire was called and she began securing the ambush site. The final result of the ambush was 27 AIF KIA (killed in action), 6 AIF WIA (wounded in action), and one AIF captured.
(Cover photograph by Dennis Steele)