January 25, 2013

1st woman to lead in combat 'thrilled' with change

The end of the ban on women in combat comes more than 23 years after U.S. Army Capt. Linda L. Bray made national news and stoked intense controversy after her actions in Panama were praised as heroic.

Michael Biesecker/The Associated Press

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U.S. Army Capt. Linda L. Bray in her home on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, in Clemmons, N.C. During the invasion of Panama in 1989, Bray became the first woman to lead US troops in battle. Commander of the 988th Military Police, she engaged in a firefight with elite Panamanian Special Forces unit inside a military barracks and dog kennel. Hanging on the wall in are bayonets taken from AK47s that was captured during the attack along with her MP brassard or armband. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey)

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Though eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, the experience soured Bray on the Army. In 1991, she resigned her commission after eight years of active duty and took a medical discharge related to a training injury.

Today's military is much different from the one Bray knew, with women already serving as fighter pilots, aboard submarines and as field supervisors in war zones. But some can't help but feel that few know of their contributions, said Alma Felix, 27, a former Army specialist.

"We are the support. Those are the positions we fill and that's a big deal — we often run the show — but people don't see that," Felix said. "Maybe it will put more females forward and give people a sense there are women out there fighting for our country. It's not just you're typical poster boy, GI Joes doing it."

Spc. Heidi Olson, a combat medic, received a purple heart for injuries she suffered when an IED exploded in Afghanistan last May.

"It makes it official now," Olson said. "We don't have to do the back door way of getting out into a combat zone."

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