In February 2012, the Pentagon lifted its combat exclusion policy, which had prevented women from serving many front line positions in the Armed Forces. But specialist Monica Lin Brown, an Army medic and the second female soldier to receive the Silver Star since World War II, already knew what it was like to face enemy fire up close.
Given her role as an Army Health Care Specialist, Brown’s job wasn’t to engage enemies in combat, but when duty called, she found herself in the thick of battle, and she acted bravely. Shortly after her deployment, at the age of 19, the female soldier’s platoon, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, was ambushed in Afghanistan.
The paratroopers were conducting a mobile patrol when a Humvee detonated a pressure mine. The explosion then triggered an ambush of small arms fire and mortars from Taliban fighters. Five of her fellow soldiers were wounded in the Humvee, and Brown sprang into action to save their lives. Specialist Brown later told CBS, “I didn’t think about anything other than the patients.”
Because of the unit’s remote location, Brown knew she was the only care provider for miles, and that was the thought that kept her focused on the wounded who needed her. “I needed to get to them. They only had me. I was it,” she explained in a video for the U.S. Army.
Running through a hail of bullets, Brown made it to the Humvee, where she found two seriously wounded soldiers. They all had to be moved, as they were wide open with no cover. Meanwhile, the ammunition and grenades inside the Humvee started detonating. “It sounded like firecrackers at first,” Brown told CBS. “It got pretty heavy after that.”
Brown dragged the wounded to a low point in the riverbed, where she was able to inspect their wounds. Specialist Larry Spray was very badly burned, and Stanston Smith sustained a deep laceration on his forehead. “I didn’t have enough gauze in my aid bag to wrap up as many burns as he had,” Brown told CBS. “That’s how bad it was.” Meanwhile, the enemy continued lobbing mortars toward their new position. Brown heroically shielded her patients using her own body.
Video Credit: DVIDSHUB
Eventually, the wounded soldiers were able to be medevaced out of the area thanks to Brown’s heroism. And later, both her sergeant and division commander recommended her to receive the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest decoration for gallantry in combat. Brown was the first woman to receive the honor after Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester in 2005 and the second to receive the medal since WWII.
While Brown, at such a young age, has been lauded for her actions, she wanted nothing more than to be considered a valued member of her unit. “I never expected them to carry my bags. I can carry my own weight,” she told CBS. “I expected to be treated like one of the guys. So, that’s how I got treated.”
When then-Vice-President Dick Cheney came to Afghanistan to present Brown with the Silver Star, she was delighted but also humble. Her hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas, would go on to organize a homecoming parade in her honor. The quiet medic was a bit overwhelmed: “I don’t want any special treatment. I don’t even care for recognition,” she explained. “I don’t expect any of those things. I did my job.”