This 4th of July, Huffington Post Women recognizes some of the heroic women who serve or have recently served in the U.S. military.
As of September 2010, women made up 14.5 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces. Although the Department of Defense bars them from taking part in direct ground combat, Lt. Col. Cheri Provancha, a commander of a support battalion in Mosul, Iraq, told the Washington Post that the Iraq war "has proven that we need to revisit the policy, because [women] are out there doing it... We are embedded with the enemy."
The women featured in the slideshow below have saved lives and in some cases given their own. This is our tribute and thank you to them.
Click here to read more about female soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Know a brave women who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces? Share her story below.
Although Defense Department policy officially prohibits women from participating in combat, there are exceptions to the rule. Filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers' documentary Lioness tells the story of Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow, and Ranie Ruthig, five of the female Army support soldiers who were intentionally deployed with Marine combat units in Iraq, even though the women had not received full combat training as their male counterparts had. The female soldiers did everything from diffuse tension among civilians to fight beside the Marines as part of the first program in American history to send women into direct ground combat.
On March 23, 2003, Lori Ann Piestewa was injured when her unit of cooks, repair personnel and clerks was ambushed in transit in southern Iraq. Piestewa and two other servicewomen were taken prisoner, and she died soon after, becoming the first female casualty of the 2003 Iraqi invasion and also the first known Native American woman to die while serving in the U.S. military. Piestewa was awarded the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal.
During a mission outside of Baghdad in March 2005, National Guard Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester's convoy came under attack. Hester, then 23, maneuvered her team out of the kill zone before entering the trenches herself to take out the insurgents. Not one American soldier was killed. "Your training kicks in and the soldier kicks in," she told American Forces Press Service. "You've got a job to do -- protecting yourself and your fellow comrades." Hester became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the third highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, for her valor during combat.
In January of 2008, National Guard combat medic Veronica Alfaro was escorting a civilian convoy along the main U.S. supply route in Iraq when the convoy came under attack. When a civilian driver was hit in a vehicle 50 yards ahead of her, Alfaro grabbed medical supplies and ran into the gunfire to aid the wounded driver. She used her body as a shield while helping the driver, who later died from his injuries. Minutes later, she got word of another wounded civilian and drove to his position, where she was able to save his life. In May 2008, Alfaro, then 23, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the military's fourth highest combat award.
In April 2007, after a roadside bomb went off in Afghanistan near a convoy of Humvees filled with American soldiers, Monica Lin Brown, a 19 year-old Army medic, ran into ensuing gunfire to save her fellow soldiers, using her body as a shield to protect the wounded. She became the first woman in Afghanistan and the second woman since World War II to win the Silver Star.
Emily Naslund led the first Marine female engagement team (FET) in Afghanistan. FET teams accompany all-male foot patrols to facilitate communication with Afghan women, who are culturally barred from interacting with male Marines. By meeting with the women and hearing their concerns, Naslund's team is able to forge trust between the Marines and the local community in the hopes of increasing security.