Leigh Ann Hester

A  hero of the Gulf War, Leigh Ann Hester was the first female soldier to be awarded the Silver Star for valor since WWII. She and two other members of her unit were given the award for their actions during an enemy ambush on their convoy.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was a vehicle commander in 2005 in the 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Kentucky. It was a job that meant guaranteed combat, something the Pentagon was not allowing women to officially engage in as an occupational specialty until 2013. “It was that one job where you can get out there and get dirty and be in an infantry-type environment,” she told the Tennessean newspaper in 2015.

Hester and her squad were shadowing a supply convoy on March 20, 2005, in Iraq 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 Staff Sgt. Timothy 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.

She later said being awarded the medal “really doesn’t have anything to do with being a female. It’s about the duties I performed that day as a soldier.”

Hester took a brief break from the National Guard in 2009, and worked as an officer for a civilian law enforcement agency in a Nashville, Tennessee suburb. However, she returned to the military a short while later, in late 2010.