Sgt. Hester's Silver Star

Washington Post:

The two soldiers crept along the trench line, bullets thumping into the dirt around them. One was a lanky family man, 36, with two young sons and a 15-year career at International Paper Co. The other was a petite, single woman, 23, the floor manager at a Nashville shoe store.

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester handed Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein a grenade. He had the better arm. Nein hurled it at the insurgents, who were crouched in the same trench, firing their AK-47 rifles at the Americans in the early afternoon.

Hester and Nein inched forward, the two recalled, Hester firing her black M-4 assault rifle next to Nein's ear. By the time the soldiers climbed out of the trench, their lips were chapped from the heat, their faces smeared with dirt, and four insurgents lay dead or dying nearby.

"I really don't know who killed who," said Hester, who stands 5-foot-4, speaks with a twang and walks with a swagger. "He could have got three, I could have got one, I don't know. I know for sure I got at least one."


Hester killed at least three enemy combatants, according to her account and the citation, including two in the orchard before she and Nein plunged into the trench together to take on the last insurgents.


The military awarded three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars and two army commendation medals to the squad last week. Receiving the Silver Star, along with Hester and Nein, was a platoon medic, Spec. Jason Mike, a 5-foot-9, 250-pound former fullback at Jacksonville University in Florida.

In the middle of the battle, Mike, 22, fired two weapons in opposite directions after three of the four soldiers traveling in his Humvee were struck by bullets, he and other members of the squad recounted.

A Bronze Star was awarded to Spec. Ashley Pullen, a 5-foot-2 ½-inch Humvee driver from Edmonton, Ky.

Pullen, 21, smiles constantly, occasionally paints her toenails pink and tilts her head back to see over the dashboard of her vehicle. As bullets pelted her Humvee's armored skin that day, Pullen backed up the truck to provide cover for Sgt. Joseph Rivera, 39, who lay bleeding with a stomach wound. Pullen then helped treat Rivera while still under enemy fire.

Capt. Todd Lindner, who commands the 617th Military Police Company, which includes Raven 42, said Hester and Pullen "shouldn't be held up as showpieces for why there should be women in combat. They should be held up as examples of why it's irrelevant."


The squad's three Humvees roared toward the firefight. Some of the trucks were already in flames. Nein ordered his driver, Sgt. Dustin Morris, to get between the assailants and the convoy.

Morris found an opening between two trailers, and the squad drove through it, emerging in the middle of the kill zone -- where gunfire is most heavily concentrated during an attack.

A blizzard of small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades followed.

"Flank 'em down the road!" Nein yelled.

Just ahead was a paved side road. Morris accelerated to make the turn. But before he could, Cooper, exposed in the turret, saw a rocket-propelled grenade coming toward him. "I saw smoke and a black dot," he recalled. "All I had time to say was, 'Oh crap.' "

The projectile exploded on the armored lip above the rear passenger's side window. The Humvee fishtailed and Cooper dropped with a thud into the cab. His limp body lay across the steel platform where he had stood moments before. His head bobbed facedown in the footwell. Nein said he reached back and shook him.

"Coop, are you okay?" he screamed. Cooper didn't move.

"Believing he was dead, I began to climb up on top of him to get up on the weapon," Nein said. Cooper suddenly bolted upright.

"I'm okay, I'm okay," Cooper said he told Nein. He climbed back into the turret.

Read the whole thing. It is the best detail yet on the fire fight and it is well written.

Update: Apparently the enemy was making a propaganda film of the ambush. The Post article states:

This account of the 25-minute firefight, near the town of Salman Pak, is based on interviews with seven squad members and their commanders and a brief video that ends abruptly with the insurgent cameraman's death. The three squad members not interviewed were wounded and are still recovering. (Emphasis added.)
You have to wonder if Linda Foley included this guy in her claim that the US was deliberately targeting journalist.


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