A 23-year-old sergeant with the Kentucky National Guard on Thursday became the first female soldier to receive the Silver Star—the nation's third-highest medal for valor—since World War II.
According to military accounts of the firefight, insurgents attacked the convoy as it traveled south of Baghdad, launching their assault from trenches alongside the road using rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Hester and her unit moved through enemy fire to the trenches, attacking them with grenades before entering and clearing them.
She killed at least three insurgents with her M4 rifle, according to her award citation. In the entire battle, 26 or 27 insurgents were killed and several more were captured, according to various accounts. Several Americans were also wounded in the firefight.
Current Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in frontline combat roles—in the infantry, armor or artillery, for example. But the nature of the war in Iraq, with no real front lines, has seen women soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than in any previous conflict.