Women in Service
On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the historic Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. In the 70 years since, more than 2 million women have served in our armed forces. Women’s involvement with the military, however, began well before 1948.
From Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Revolutionary War, to the more than 430,000 women who volunteered as nurses, telephone operators and pilots in both World War One and World War II, to the thousands of women who answered the call during the Korea War and Vietnam war, serving in MASH medical units, women have been a part of the U.S. military since its inception and continue to be today. In the last seventeen years, over 300,000 women have volunteered to serve our country in Iraq and Afghanistan in the longest war in American history. One of these remarkable women is Sgt. First Class Leigh Ann Hester.
As a child, Leigh Ann Hester’s father took her to see parade where she watched service men and women march in uniform. Looking up as they moved in sharp formation, Leigh Ann knew she wanted to be one of them one day— she longed to serve her country. In April 2001, age 21, her childhood dream became reality when she joined the National Guard. Hester enlisted as a Military Police Officer, because it was, in 2001, one of the few positions a woman could get out into the field.
On March 20, 2005, SFC Hester led a Humvee providing protection for 30 semi-tractor trailers outside of Bagdad. Suddenly, they were ambushed by gunfire. From a nearby orchard and in ditches along the road, over 50 insurgents were attacking from all sides. Leigh Ann and a fellow squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, ran straight into the gunfire with no cover to fire back.
For her valiant efforts, SFC Leigh Ann Hester was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration in the U.S. military, making her the first woman since World War II to receive the award and the first woman ever to receive the award for valor in combat.