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War Stories: Fighting paralegal proves her mettle in Baghdad battle

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 27, 2006

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — You wouldn’t think this blond-haired, blue-eyed paralegal with a warm smile is a force to be reckoned with when she’s behind a .50-caliber machine gun.

But you — and the fighters who ambushed her convoy — would be wrong.

Army Cpl. Krista Bullard proved her combat mettle in late January when her convoy from Camp Arifjan came under attack close to Baghdad International Airport. Bullard, a private first class at the time, was the turret gunner in a Humvee when the enemy unleashed fire on her convoy at night. She returned fire with 61 rounds from her .50-caliber machine gun, causing secondary explosions at the enemy position. It was her first convoy manning a .50-caliber machine gun.

“I can’t say I wasn’t scared, because I was really scared,” said the 20-year-old from Altamont, Ill. “I didn’t want to be shot, but I wasn’t going to duck down and crawl in the vehicle. I was the .50-cal gunner. That was my job.”

Not only did Bullard earn the Combat Action Badge for her reactions in the incident, but the nearly 5-foot-10 woman received the friendly nicknames “Combat Barbie” and “Jag-Bo” from her fellow soldiers in the 37th Transportation Group out of Kaiserslautern, Germany. During this deployment, the 37th Transportation Command is known as the 37th Transportation Group.

Bullard also garnered praise from the 37th Transportation Group command sergeant major, who was riding in the Humvee with Bullard on the night of the attack.

“They say ‘train as you fight,’ but you don’t know until you’re actually in the fight whether you’re going to execute as you’re trained,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Tony L. Baker. “Sure enough, she executed as she was trained and provided suppressive fire to allow that convoy to go through, continue the mission and get to our destination.”

Prior to her deployment, Bullard had never even seen a .50-caliber machine gun, much less fired one. In fact, before Bullard joined the Army, the only weapon she had fired was a BB gun.

While downrange, Bullard attended a pre-marksmanship instruction class. Then, Bullard went to a .50-caliber machine gun range and subsequently qualified on the weapon. She volunteered to be a .50-caliber machine gunner for the late January convoy.

While on the convoy, Bullard admits, she was praying the whole time for nothing to happen.

Around 8 p.m., Bullard heard Baker, who was serving as truck commander in her Humvee, tell her that small-arms fire was coming from their 9 o’clock position. Bullard cranked the turret toward the position, located the enemy and told Baker she was going to return fire.

“I started firing,” she said. “That was definitely a nerve- wracking experience. As soon as they quit firing on that side, I could hear myself breathing in the intercom. It was just crazy. I never had that high of an adrenaline rush in my life.”

She had time to take a breath before Baker told her that enemy fire was coming from the 3 o’clock position.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, you have to be kidding me,’” Bullard said. “So, I rolled around to that side … I remember seeing them fire and firing back. I don’t know what I hit, but I fired. I hit a couple of things and they blew up, so it was kind of neat to see some secondary explosions.”

The whole episode lasted around 10 minutes, and no one in the convoy was injured.

Later that night, Bullard’s body was tense, and she didn’t sleep very well, she said.

“All my nerves were just shot, basically,” Bullard said. “Mentally, I think I was fine. I didn’t shed any tears. There was really no point to. I could have cried, but what would have it helped me with? Nothing. I think I get excited every time I talk about it.”


Army Cpl. Krista Bullard displays one of the 61, .50-caliber machine gun shells from a late January incident when her convoy came under attack.
STEVE MRAZ / S&S

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