Thanks for the heroism ... now get out!

Army medic Pfc. Monica Brown received a Silver Star for bravery in Iraq. Then she got booted from her men's-only unit.

By Kate Harding
May 2, 2008 11:35PM (UTC)
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Anti-feminists are often quick to argue that if women want equality, we should be willing to serve in combat. Well, some women are willing -- and some women are doing it as we speak, owing partly to the ill-defined battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and partly to the specific need for women's skills in combat units.

But the official rules for units engaged in direct combat still state that women should not serve. Which is why, as the Washington Post reports, Army medic Pfc. Monica Brown was removed from her unit after -- in fact, because of -- a show of heroism that earned her a Silver Star, the nation's third-highest combat medal.


On April 25, 2007, a Humvee in Brown's platoon hit a pressure-plate bomb, injuring five men. Under fire from nearby insurgents, Brown and a colleague pulled one of the injured into a ditch, where Brown shielded him with her own body as the insurgents fired mortars all around them and the ammunition in the bombed Humvee began to explode. Her bravery made her the second woman in 60 years to earn a Silver Star, but it also focused attention on her serving in an ostensibly all-male combat unit, which got her pulled from the unit within a week.

Brown didn't want to leave, and her colleagues didn't want her to go, but rules are rules, said the higher-ups. Given the number of women already serving in combat units and the courage and skill Brown displayed, perhaps it's time for those rules to change. Can it really be better to allow women in combat only if they don't do anything to distinguish themselves?

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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