Combat exclusion was lifted in 2016. But women were serving in combat long before combat exclusion was lifted. Vanessa Brown served as a mechanic and was running convoys on all three of her deployments. The first one happened in 2008. She is also a female purple heart recipient. Each deployment she faced a close call with an IED in both 2008 and 2016 deployments and she was shot in an ambush in 2010 in Iraq.
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Vanessa grew up in Germany and met a soldier and ended up marrying him and following him to the United States. She graduated from college with a degree in Business. But did not think she wanted to follow a career in her degree. She decided to join the military and choose her career field as a mechanic. She was still in the process of earning her citizenship but could enlist with a green card. And the military helped move the process forward quickly so that at the end of her four-year commitment she would have her citizenship and be able to re-enlist.
Deploying to Iraq
When she got to her first base she found out she would be deploying soon and she headed off to training. She was part of the 101st so she went to Airborne school and she also learned about how to rescue vehicles. When she got to Iraq the first thing they were told was, “Women can not be in combat so you will not go off base.”
But through the deployment, they realized having a woman on convoys could be an asset. Both the fact that she was good at her job and could get her small hands into places some of the guys could not but also having a woman able to interact with the women in Iraq was important. She lost her best friend when they were hit by an IED in a long convoy. He bled out and she survived with minor injuries. But instead of getting support with the traumatic incident, they put her in another truck to continue on the mission.
In 2010, she also deployed to Iraq. This time she was injured in an ambush. She was trying to get back into her vehicle when she was shot. When she fell a group of Iraqis pulled her by the legs. She was worried they were trying to kidnap her. But they were actually trying to get her out of harm’s way. Throughout the event, she went in and out of consciousness. Eventually woke up on a medivac and saw a needle sticking out of her chest. She knew the injury was serious but the medic assured her she would be okay. She was able to heal from her injury and continue her service.
Hit by an IED in Afghanistan
Her last deployment was to Afghanistan. They were in Kunar Province and their main goal was to keep the girls safe at school. Because of the rules of engagement, they could not interfere outside of the school and she found that aspect of the mission very challenging. The vehicle she was riding in hit another IED. This time it went off before the vehicle hit it but the blast caused the truck to roll over on its side. The driver landed on top of her. She ended up injuring her back in the accident and was medically discharged. While recovering at Walter Reed her husband left her and took her son. While she was stuck in a hospital and unable to get the support needed to fight the custody battle.
She was part of Veterans Laughing Together on VetsTV. She was one of eight purple heart recipients and the only female. The men were surprised by her story and admitted they did not realize the role women had played in most recent conflicts.
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Mentioned in this episode:
Veterans Laughing Together – VetTV