Meet Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to be awarded a Silver Star since World War II and the first to be recognized for valor in close combat.

Nearly eighteen years ago, a squad of military police consisting of eight men and two women were escorting a supply convoy in three Humvees from logistics support area (LCA) Anaconda to convoy support center (CSC) Scania outside of Baghdad, Iraq, when approximately 50 insurgents ambushed the 30-truck convoy.

With little concern for her own safety, Sgt. Hester sprung into action leading her team into a counterattack.

Raven 42B Team Leader

Hester, born on 12 January 1982, was a sergeant in the 617th Military Police (MP) Company—a National Guard unit based in Richmond, Kentucky— when she was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) after joining the US Army in 2001.

On 20 March 2005, Hester was acting as team leader for RAVEN 42B in the 617th Military Police Company, and her troops were shadowing a sustainment convoy, including “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,” near Baghdad when insurgents ambushed them. Dozens of Anti-Iraqi Forces (AIF) overwhelmed the US troops with heavy fire from AK-47 assault rifles, RPK machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Taking advantage of the nearby irrigation ditches and an orchard, the insurgents were almost invisible and had the upper hand in the first minutes of the firefight. According to her Silver Star citation, the AIF intent was to “destroy the convoy, to inflict numerous casualties, and to kidnap several TCN drivers or US Soldiers.”

Camp Liberty, Iraq, 2005
Sgt. Hester and five other soldiers stand in front of Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq,  as he addresses them during the awards ceremony. (Image source: DVIDS)

Quick on their feet, Hester and her team positioned themselves between the convoy and the AIFs, before strategically flanking the insurgents to cut off their escape route. Hester led the assault on the remaining enemies on foot, using her M203 grenade launcher to good effect. Her squad leader, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, cleared out the remaining two trenches alongside Hester, where the female soldier killed three more insurgents with her weapon.

When the dust settled after a 25-minute firefight, Hester and her squad had killed 27 insurgents, wounded six, and held one captive. Meanwhile, only three convoy members were injured, and the supplies remained secured.