SFC Leigh Ann Hester
SFC Leigh Ann Hester was the first woman to receive the Silver Star since WWII. She was SGT Lester at the time of the events where she earned her Silver Star, but has since been promoted to SFC.
The Silver Star Medal is the United States Armed Forces’ third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. The Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor are the only two higher awards. The Silver Star Medal is awarded primarily to members of the United States Armed Forces for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
Leigh Ann Hester was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1982. She grew up in Kentucky and enlisted with the National Guard in the spring of 2001, she had been selling shoes at the local Shoe Pavilion near her home in Nashville, Tenn. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened right before she left for basic training. She remembers the drill sergeants telling her and the other recruits that they would be the ones to go to war. And that’s exactly what happened. In July 2004, Hester was ordered to Iraq.
When SGT Hester got to Baghdad she was assigned as a team leader for 617th Military Police Company, 503d Military Police Battalion (Airborne) stationed at Camp Liberty, Iraq. Her job was to protect critical supply routes.
“Basically, we would go out in our Humvees and we would clear the route for [improvised explosive devices] or insurgents before the convoys would start coming through,” Hester says.
Roughly once a week, her team would actually escort a convoy on these roads.
She remembers one day in particular. It was a Sunday morning around 9 a.m. She and her team were taking a convoy on a road east of Baghdad. They got 3 miles down the road and started hearing gunshots and explosions. The vehicle in front of hers started to turn onto a side road. “As soon as they started to make that turn, they got a direct hit with [a rocket propelled grenade].
From this point I am just going to read the narrative that accompanied her Silver Star. It tells the story of what happened better than I can.
“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, 503d 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, Staff Sergeant 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. Sergeant 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. Staff Sergeant 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 Sergeant 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. Sergeant 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. Sergeant Hester began engaging the insurgents with her M203 in order to suppress the heavy AIF fire. Sergeant Hester followed Staff Sergeant Nein to the right side berm and threw two well placed fragmentation grenades into the trench eliminating the AIF threat. Sergeant Hester and Staff Sergeant Nein went over the berm into the trench and began clearing the trench with their M4s. Sergeant 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.”
The fire fight lasted about 45 minutes and every single Soldier in SGT Hester’s team survived that day.
By any definition, it was a major firefight — direct ground combat — exactly what women are NOT supposed to engage in, according to the Pentagon’s combat exclusion policy.
SSG Nein also received the Silver Star along with SGT Hester.
Like I said before, SGT Hester was the first woman to recieve the award since then — and up to that point, the only woman to get it for engaging in direct combat with the enemy.
When she returned home, SGT Hester continued to serve in the Kentucky National Guard and became a police officer at the Franklin Police Department in Tennessee in August 2006.
She left the service in 2009 to focus on her career. However, in 2010, Leigh joined the Tennessee National Guard while still working as a civilian police officer.
She also served as an instructor at the 117th Regional Training Institute Military Police School from 2012 to 2014. SSG (at this point) Hester was chosen to deploy to Afghanistan in 2014 for 18 months as a Cultural Support Team member. There she was promoted to SFC.
She also deployed to Saint Croix in response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Many of the stories documented how she did not want to be treated as a hero. She did her job and kept her team alive and that is all that mattered. However, she still continues to be honored for her bravery and valor in many interviews, concerts, and military events.
SFC Hester continues to serve in the Tennessee National Guard and is a Detective for the Franklin Police Department.
As a final note, there have only been 6 women who have ever received the Silver Star in US history.
- Ellen Ainsworth – Anzio Campaign, Italy WWII
- Mary Roberts – Anzio Campaign, Italy WWII
- Elaine Roe – Anzio Campaign, Italy WWII
- Rita Rourke – Anzio Campaign, Italy WWII
- SFC Leigh Ann Hester – Iraq
- PFC Monica Lin Brown – Afghanistan
COL Ruth Alice Lucas
Ruth Alice Lucas, was the first African American woman to be promoted to the rank of full colonel in the United States Air Force. Col Lucas was born in 1920, in Stamford, Connecticut
Not only did Ruth receive attend college at what is now Tuskegee University in Alabama, but she also taught English at that same school. She majored in education with a minor in sociology and graduated in 1942
After graduation she joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She attended Officer Candidate School, OCS at Fort Des Moines in Iowa and ruth is one of 40 black women out of a class of 440 women.
At 27 years old, when the Air Force is formed in 1947, Ruth transfers over from the Army.
Now as an Air Force officer, she is transferred to Tokyo, Japan and is stationed there from 1951 to 1954. During her time there she was the chief of the Awards Division. Her awards citation even noted how she enabled the most ‘expeditious processing of awards’ in her Division. I think we need to implement her SOP into a few more shops in the military.
In her spare time, she taught English to Japanese students. Her love of teaching is apparent.
She is stationed at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York after her tour in Japan is over and promoted to major in 1956. During her time in New York, she works on her master’s degree and in 1957 she gets her degree in educational psychology from Columbia University.
in the early 1960s she is stationed in Washington, D.C. Most of the duties she held during her time in the capitol were related to research and education.
In 1968 she makes history as the first Black Woman to make the rank of colonel in the US Air Force. At the time of this promotion, she was the assistant for general education and counseling services, working for the deputy assistant secretary of defense for education.
Ruth set up programs to help raise the educational levels of servicemen. Ruth’s heart was to reach the black men that joined the military with less than a fifth-grade reading level She said it was her goal to spark their interest in education and get them to continue their education. She wanted to reach this group that no one else seemed interested in. Of the 45,000 men that entered the military with that reading level below about 30% were black. Her programs were for all the service members that needed it, but her heart was with her community.
One of Ruth’s soldiers spoke about how she lived, breathed and ate training. She saw people as more than numbers and tried to help everyone. She got results and everyone around her could see it. Just absolutely an amazing woman. Doing what she did and you know it had to have been hard. She just kept reaching for those she saw falling through the cracks.
After 28 years of service, Ruth retired from the Air Force in 1970. She was still the highest-ranking black woman in the branch and continued to be all the way until 1991.
After she retired from the Air Force in 1970, Ruth served as the director of urban services at the new University of the District of Columbia. During her time there she designed outreach programs for high school students.
She then retired a second time in 1994 as the assistant to the dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Physical Science, Engineering and Technology.
Col. Ruth Alice Lucas died March 23, 2013 at the age of 92. She passed away at her home in Washington, D.C., and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
I would like to share a quote from Col Lucas as well. I think it speaks well of who she was. “I tried to use grace and courage, without stooping to the level of people who would block my efforts. I have tried as well to reach back and help other women. I can only hope that others will do the same.”
-Ruth A. Lucas