WASHINGTON — A Kentucky National Guard soldier on Thursday became the first woman awarded the Silver Star for service in the war on terror.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, a Tennessee resident; Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, an Indiana resident who served as squad leader that day, and Spc. Jason Mike from Kentucky, a medic, all from the 617th Military Police Company, received their honors in a ceremony at Camp Liberty in Iraq. Hester is the first woman awarded a Silver Star since World War II.
“I’m honored to even be considered, much less awarded, the medal,” Hester told the American Forces Press Service. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with being a female. It’s about the duties I performed that day as a soldier.”
Army documents state that Hester was serving as team leader during a March 20 mission outside Baghdad when her convoy came under attack. Hester maneuvered her team through the kill zone, then turned around to assault the insurgent’s trench lines with grenades.
According to soldiers’ accounts, she entered the trenches with Nein and killed at least three insurgents with her rifle. The unit killed 27 insurgents in the attack without losing a single soldier.
“Your training kicks in and the soldier kicks in,” she told American Forces Press Service. “You’ve got a job to do — protecting yourself and your fellow comrades.”
The citation reads that her actions “saved the lives of numerous convoy members.” She has also earned the National Defense Service Medal, Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon.
Hester, 23, was born in Kentucky and joined the state’s Army National Guard in 2001. According to her Army bio, she lives in Nashville and works as a retail store manager.
Hester’s father, Jerry, told The Associated Press that he is overwhelmed by his daughter’s accomplishments.
“It’s something to be very proud of, and my wife and I are. Leigh Ann is a very good soldier. She played softball and basketball all through high school, and she’s won a lot of games. But those games didn’t mean nowhere near what this medal does and what she’s done for her country.”
The soldiers were presented their medals by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, Multinational Corps Iraq commanding general, who lauded them as heroes.
Three other unit members received Bronze Stars with combat “V” for their actions during the ambush: Spc. Ashley Pullen, Spc. William Haynes II and Spc. Casey Cooper.
Receiving Army Commendation Medals with “V” were Spc. Jessie Ordunez and Sgt. Dustin Morris. All five were in the 617th MP Company as well.