ON THE outskirts of Salman Pak a little southeast of Baghdad on March 20, a convoy of 30 tractor-trailers driven by third-country nationals was attacked by a force of 40 to 50 insurgents armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
The convoy was escorted by three Humvees. But one was in the kill zone, and the three soldiers in it were wounded immediately. The soldiers in the other vehicles were pinned down by heavy fire. Insurgents with handcuffs moved toward the wounded soldiers, intending to take them prisoner.
But a squad of 10 MPs in three Humvees had been shadowing the convoy, and arrived in the nick of time. The MPs drove across the kill zone, shielding the convoy from enemy fire, turned up an access road at a right angle to the main road, and stopped next to a field across which a squad of insurgents was advancing. In front of them was a line of seven sedans with doors and trunks open, the insurgents getaway cars.
The second vehicle in the squad was hit immediately by an RPG which knocked the gunner unconscious. All three soldiers in the third Humvee were wounded by machine gun fire.
The driver of the middle vehicle sprinted to the third to take up the machine gun from the fallen gunner there. The squad leader, in the second vehicle, revived the dazed gunner and then, with the team sergeant from the first Humvee, moved into a ditch in which many of the insurgents were hiding. The two sergeants fought their way up the ditch, throwing grenades and firing their carbines.
The two sergeants cleared the ditch. The team sergeant had five confirmed kills, the squad leader two. The gunners on the three vehicles also were effective. The 10 MPs together killed 26 guerrillas, and captured another in what was the biggest battle in Iraq since the assault on Fallujah the preceding November.
The first thing to note is the MPs were from the 617th MP company of the Kentucky Army National Guard. Our weekend warriors fight just as well as our regulars, who fight very well indeed.
The second thing to note is that the team sergeant who took the lead in clearing the ditch was Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, 23, who sells shoes at a store in Nashville in civilian life.
Nearly as courageous as Sergeant Hester was Spc. Ashley Pullen, who treated the wounded under fire.
Sergeant Hester and Specialist Pullen pretty much close for me the debate over women in combat. No, I m not in favor of lifting the restrictions in the Army and Marine Corps that keep women out of infantry, armor, and special forces units. The combat arms exclusion exists for sound reasons which ought not to be ignored to please a few feminists who would never dream of enlisting themselves. But anyone who says women can t pull their load on the battlefield should take it up with Sergeant Hester. But not when she s mad.
We cannot do without women in the military. The Army has missed its recruiting goals for two consecutive months, and is likely to fall short again this month. There would be no hope of meeting goals without female recruits. And women soldiers are a big reason why soldiers have higher IQs and more education than the youth population as a whole.
The Army does some silly things with its women. Coed basic training is a foolishness imposed during the Clinton administration which lowers the readiness of both male and female soldiers.
The Army would be wise to follow the lead of the Marine Corps, which segregates the sexes during boot camp. But G.I. Jane is here to stay, and that s mostly a good thing.