Women in combat is not something new. In 2016, women were formally allowed to serve in combat roles. All jobs were open to all military members. Gender was no longer a discriminating factor. This law-making headline made it so some people believed that for the first time women were going to be allowed to be on the front lines. But, the truth is, women have been serving on the front lines for decades. And it was only because of their sacrifice and bravery that women were allowed to serve in all capacities within the military. This Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to recognize the present-day women who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
This week on the Women of the Military Podcast I shared the stories of women who gave their lives from World War I when women were formally allowed to join the military. You can listen to the whole episode here.
Operation Desert Shield to Today
This blog post highlights the second half of the podcast episode by sharing the stories of women who died during Operation Desert Shield to today. I wanted to highlight the stories of women to help people see how the role of women has changed since the days of nurses and secretaries being the primary service option.
Today’s women serve in all aspects of the military and have given their lives next to the men they served beside. Hear their stories and remember their sacrifice this Memorial Day weekend.
Gulf War (Desert Shield/Desert Storm)
The Gulf War is broken up into two missions. Operation Desert Shield lasted from August 2, 1990, to January 17, 1991, and it was the operations leading to the build-up of troops and defense of Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Storm was from January 17, 1991, to February 28, 1991. It was the combat phase of the war. You can hear more about this war in my interview with Angela Beltz (episode 57) who was one of the first from her unit to deploy and stayed there until the war ended.
Specialist Christine Mayers and Specialist Beverly Clark were the first two-woman to die in the support of Operation Desert Storm. They both died in an Iraqi Scud missile attack on their barracks in Saudi Arabia on Feb 25, 1991. 28 Americans died in the attack and 89 were wounded.
Global War on Terrorism
The War on Terror, also known as the Global War on Terrorism is an international military campaign launched by the United States after the September 11th attacks in 2001. In 2013, President Barrack Obama announced that the Global War on Terrorism was over. He said the military and intelligence agencies will not wage war against a tactic but instead will focus on a specific group of networks determined to destroy the US. But with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a new operation against terror in the Middle East and South Asia began. Operation Inherent Resolve.
Sergeant Jeanette L. Winters (May 4, 1976 – Jan 9, 2002)
The first woman to die in the War on Terror was Jeanette Winters. She was a radio operator in the Marine Corps who was usually far from combat. But, the KC -130 (fueling plane) she was flying in crashed into a mountainside of Pakistan. It was on approach to land at an airfield in the town of Shamsi. The plane was found to be flying too low at night without vision equipment.
Specialist Lori Piestewa (December 14, 1979 – March 23, 2003)
She is believed to be the first Native American woman to be killed in combat in a foreign war and was the first woman to die during the Iraq War and was a single mother of two young boys. She and her team were ambushed near Nasiriyah, Iraq. This was the same attack the injured fellow soldiers Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch. They all three survived the initial attack, but Piestewa had head injuries and died in the Iraqi hospital. Lynch has repeatedly stated that Piestewa was the true heroine of the ambush and named her daughter Dakota Ann in honor of her fallen comrade.
Senior Airman Ashton LM Goodman (June 14, 1987 – May 26, 2009)
Ashton died in an IED attack outside Bagram Air Base with her commander Lt Col Mark E. Stratton II. She was part of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team. As a team member, she often found herself in the role of mentor to Afghanistan women. She attended weekly meetings and was able to work with the women to advance the economic and social development of the women in Panjshir.
Corporal Jennifer Parcell (June 27, 1986 – February 7, 2007)
She was part of the Lioness Program. A program that used female Marines from different military occupation specialties to search Iraqi women at checkpoints. Parcell was a few weeks shy of coming home when the Iraqi woman she was searching detonated her explosive vest and killed her. She had planned to leave the Marines and go college at the end of her enlistment in 2009.
First Lieutenant Ashley White (Sept 3, 1987 – October 22, 2011)
Ashley was assigned to a Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. Because of the word attached women were able to be assigned to special operation teams. Special operation leaders believed America would never kill its way to the end of its wars. The US needed more knowledge. But the knowledge was held by half of the population that remained out of reach due to Afghan cultural traditions.
It forced the Operations Commanders to request a team of American women. These women would need to be fit and skilled enough to serve alongside their highly trained and test men. On Oct 22, 2011, Lieutenant White was killed in action on a combat operation alongside two Rangers. Sgt First Class Kristoffer Domeij and Pfc. Christopher Horns. You can read more about Ashley’s story and all the women who served on Cultural Support Teams in the book Ashley’s War (affiliate link).
Operation Inherent Resolve
Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent (1983- January 16, 2019)
Shannon was a Navy cryptologist and mother of two. She was in Manbij, Syria responsible for finding ISIS cells and their leaders. Fixing their locations in time and space and then providing that intelligence to her peers at Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 or to pilots who would perform kinetic strikes with GPS guided missiles. Without warning, a blast tore through a nearby restaurant her team were walking past. A suicide bomber caused the blast killing her and her team. She was one of the women in combat that helped change the law in 2016. Her husband is once quoted as saying, “She was a woman in Special Operation Forces before there were women in Special Operation Forces.”
This post was written in memory of Luc Gruenther.