Female troops face new dangers in Iraq

Pfc. Jena Clifford, 68th Transportation Company, Mannheim, Germany.

By LISA HORN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 30, 2004

Each year, Memorial Day pays tribute to those who have died in America’s battles. This year, memorial wreaths will be placed on more female warriors’ graves than ever before.

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, more women have died serving in Iraq than in any other war in American history. As of May 28, 20 female soldiers have died in Iraq, 13 by enemy fire. In Desert Storm, 15 women lost their lives, five to hostile fire.

Like their male counterparts, women join the military for a variety of reasons beyond patriotism: to earn money for college, to become proficient in a skill, to see the world or simply to challenge themselves.

“I needed a change,” said Sgt. Tammy Joseph, a hairdresser and reservist before she joined the Army full time. She’s now a truck driver for the 68th Transportation Company in Mannheim, Germany.

“I have learned a lot about myself,” said Pfc. Jena Clifford, another “Eagle Express” driver, who smiled when she mentioned that her father was a Marine. “Coming into the military, you learn so much more about yourself than you would if you went to college.”

Pfc. Rachel Bosveld, the only female soldier based in the European theater killed in Iraq to date, also chose to follow in her father’s boot steps. A member of the 527th Military Police Company from Giessen, Germany, Bosveld was killed Oct. 26, during a mortar attack on a Baghdad police station.

“She was my little girl,” said Marvin Bosveld, Rachel’s father, during a phone interview from Waupun, Wis. “I was in the Army, her brother was in the Army so she had the Army background. I raised my kids to be very independent and take care of themselves.”

From the Revolutionary War’s Molly Pitcher to the heroines of Operation Iraqi Freedom, women have served — and some have died — in virtually every conflict in U.S. history. However, it wasn’t until 1948 that Congress allowed women to become full-fledged members of every service branch.

Today, women can serve in practically any unit, anywhere. According to Defense Department statistics, women serve in 91.2 percent of all Army occupations and, unlike in Vietnam, all female soldiers are trained to use weapons.

Some career fields, however, are still closed to women.

Women cannot serve in battalion size or smaller units of infantry, armor, cannon field artillery, multiple launch rocket artillery and Special Forces.

They may not fly special operations helicopters, perform organizational mechanized maintenance in maneuver battalions, be assigned to forward area air defense artillery, combat engineer line companies or ground surveillance radar platoons.

“The Department of Defense likes to differentiate between combat, combat service and combat service support,” said 1st Lt. Jenny Pittam, executive officer for the 68th. “But in reality, we’re all out there just as much.”

Regardless of job or gender, the guerrilla nature of the Iraq war has made every servicemember a target, said Pittam, who along with Joseph and Clifford, deployed to Iraq from April to October last year.

“To be in combat service support doesn’t really mean much anymore,” she said. “You’re still there with the front-line soldiers.”

Such was the case for Spc. Frances Vega, an administrative specialist; Sgt. Melissa Valles, an automated logistical specialist; and Sgt. Keicia Hines, a unit supply specialist. They all died in Iraq doing jobs that would have normally put them far from the enemy.

“The lines are blurred now,” Pittam said. “It’s not a matter of engaging, it’s a matter of defending.”

Spc. Brie Kotula, a light-wheeled mechanic with Babenhausen’s 77th Maintenance Company checked cars and searched suspicious women during her eight-month deployment last year.

“At first it was really scary,” said Kotula, who compares her job of maintaining vehicles to a Jiffy Lube mechanic. “We didn’t have any prior training for this, and we didn’t really know what to do.”

Military police assisted Kotula’s unit at the beginning, “but after they moved, it was kind of like, ‘We’re alone, we’re out here,’ ” she paused. “It’s just you and the person you were working with at one guard station.”

So have the deaths of female servicemembers caused a public outcry? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Charles Moskos, a military sociologist and professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

“Americans seem to prefer somebody else’s daughter dying rather than their own sons,” Moskos said. “Surprisingly, there has been no outcry, no reaction. I think part of it is because the women who are dying are generally working class women and they’re not the daughters of prominent Americans.

“There was more attention given to Pat Tillman than there were to the women [killed], right?” he asked, referring to the publicity surrounding the death of Tillman, a former professional football player who died fighting in Afghanistan.

Though there appears to be a wider acceptance of female servicemembers working jobs that were once reserved for men only, female soldiers interviewed, however, said that they still have to prove their mettle to the males. And they don’t have any qualms about it.

“It’s a day-to-day struggle to basically put my foot down and say, ‘I can do this, I am just as good as you,’ ” Kotula said.

Rachel Bosveld’s sister-in-law, 2nd Lt. Marylou Bosveld, an MP with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, hopes to pick up where Rachel left off.

“I think she’s going to volunteer to go,” Marvin Bosveld said. “I just think that’s her nature. Right after Rachel was killed she said, ‘I’m going to go over there to pick up her weapon and continue on.’ ”

Female troops killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom

There are 214,197 women currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Another 136,993 women are serving in the Army Reserves, Army National Guard, Naval Reserves, Air National Guard and Marine Reserves.

Twenty female soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. They are:

• Pfc. Lori Anne Piestewa, 23, Tuba City, Ariz. Died in ambush, March 23, 2003. Piestewa was assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company, Fort Bliss, Texas.

• Sgt. Melissa Valles, 26, Eagle Pass, Texas. Died of noncombat gunshot wound, July 9. Valles was assigned to Company B, 64th Forward Support Battalion, Fort Carson, Colo.

• Spc. Alyssa Peterson, 27, Flagstaff, Ariz. Died of noncombat weapons discharge, Sept. 15. Peterson was assigned to Company C, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

• Spc. Tamarra Ramos, 24, Quakertown, Pa. Died of noncombat-related injuries, Oct. 1. Ramos was assigned to the 3rd Armor Medical Company, Medical Troop Regimental Support Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo.

• Pfc. Analaura Esparza Gutierrez, 21, Houston. Died in convoy attack, Oct. 1. Esparza Gutierrez was assigned to Company A, 4th Forward Support Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas.

• Pfc. Rachel Bosveld, 19, Waupun, Wis. Died in mortar attack, Oct. 26. Bosveld was assigned to the 527th Military Police Company, V Corps, Giessen, Germany.

• Pfc. Karina S. Lau, 20, Livingston, Calif. Died in helicopter shoot-down, Nov. 2. Lau was assigned to the 16th Signal Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas.

• Spc. Frances Vega, 20, Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. Died in helicopter shoot-down, Nov. 2. Vega was assigned to the 151st Adjutant General Postal Detachment 3, Fort Hood, Texas.

• Chief Warrant Officer Sharon Swartworth, 43, Alexandria, Va. Died in helicopter shoot-down, Nov. 7. Swartworth was the regimental warrant officer for the Judge Advocate General Office, based at Headquarters Department of the Army, Pentagon.

• Sgt. Linda Jimenez, 39, Brooklyn, N.Y. Died after a fall while off-duty, Nov. 8. Jimenez was assigned to the 2nd Squadron Combat Support Aviation (Maintenance), 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Polk, La.

• Staff Sgt. Kimberly Voelz, 27, Carlisle, Pa. Died while she was defusing a bomb, Dec. 14. Voelz was assigned to the 703rd Explosive Ordnance Detachment based in Fort Knox, Ky.

• Capt. Kimberly Hampton, 27, Easley, S.C. Died when her helicopter was shot down, Jan. 2. Hampton was assigned to 1st Battalion, 82nd Aviation Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

• Sgt. Keicia M. Hines, 27, Citrus Heights, Calif. Died when she was struck by a vehicle on Mosul Airfield, Jan. 14. Hines was assigned to the 108th Military Police, Combat Support Co., Fort Bragg, N.C.

• Pfc. Holly McGeogh, 19, Taylor, Mich. Died in convoy attack, Jan. 31. McGeogh was assigned to Company A, 4th Forward Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Division (Mech), Fort Hood, Texas.

• Pfc. Nichole Frye, 19, Lena, Wis. Died in convoy attack, Feb. 16. Frye was assigned to Company A, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, Kalamazoo, Mich.

• Capt. Gussie Jones, 41, Shreveport, La. Died of a heart attack, March 7. Jones was assigned to the 31st Combat Support Hospital, Fort Bliss, Texas.

• Spc. Tyanna Felder, Bridgeport, Conn. Died in convoy attack, April 7. Felder was assigned to the Army’s 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.

• Spc. Michelle Witmer, 20, New Berlin, Wis. Died in bomb attack, April 9. Witmer was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police Company, Milwaukee, Wis.

• Spc. Isela Rubalcava, 25, El Paso, Texas. Died when a mortar round hit near her, May 8. Rubalcava was assigned to the 296th Combat Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash.

• Pfc. Leslie D. Jackson, 18, Richmond, Va. Died when her vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, May 20. Jackson was assigned to Company A, 115th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

— From the Department of Defense

1st Lt. Jenny Pittam, 68th Transportation Company, Mannheim, Germany.