As a child, Leigh Ann Hester’s father took her to see parade where she watched service men and women march in uniform. Looking up as they moved in sharp formation, Leigh Ann knew she wanted to be one of them one day— she longed to serve her country.
In April 2001, age 21, her childhood dream became reality when she joined the National Guard. Hester enlisted as a Military Police Officer, because it was, in 2001, one of the few positions where a woman could get out into the field.
On March 20, 2005, Sgt.1st Class Hester led a Humvee providing protection for 30 semi-tractor trailers outside of Baghdad when they came under fire. From a nearby orchard and in ditches along the road, more than 50 insurgents were attacking from all sides. Hester and a fellow squad leader, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, ran straight into the gunfire with no cover to fire back.
For her valiant efforts, Hester was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration in the U.S. military, making her the first woman since World War II to receive the award and the first woman ever to receive the award for valor in combat.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, PBS’ National Memorial Day Concert will pay tribute to the contributions of women in our military throughout history.
From Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Revolutionary War, to the more than 430,000 women who volunteered as