Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History, Volume IV

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This is Army Specialist Monica Brown. She's 19 years old, and she's only the second woman since World War II to earn the Silver Star, one of our nation's highest military awards for gallantry in combat.

Specialist Brown is a medic, and in April of last year, was part of a four-vehicle convoy patrolling near Jani Kheil in the eastern province of Paktia in Afghanistan when a bomb struck one of the Humvees.

After the explosion, she braved insurgent gunfire and mortars to reach five wounded soldiers. She shielded them as she administered aid and helped drag them to safety.

In the finest tradition of medics and corpsmen everywhere, her attitude about her actions is that she was "just doing her job," and that her gender didn't have anything to do with it - "a soldier is a soldier," she said on NPR's radio show Tell Me More.

This story brought tears to my eyes. Not because this brave young woman did what needed to be done in the most harrowing of circumstances - although she did - but because to her generation, my children's generation, gender is a non-issue. She's an army soldier, a combat medic, and an ROTC candidate who intends to enter the Nursing Corps after college. She doesn't see herself as a female soldier, a WAC or a WAAC. Just a soldier.

I like to flatter myself that I may have, in my own small way, had something to do with Specialist Brown's freedom to not consider her gender an issue. I had to consider my gender every day of my service. While my generation were not the pioneers the WASPs and other ill-behaved women were, we helped plow the road.

Congratulations, Specialist Brown. You make me proud to have served.

And to the ill-behaved women who have come before - behold the fruits of your labor. Truly a spectacular accomplishment.

14 comments:

Cindi in CO said...

CBS News told Specialist Brown's story a week or so ago, and I couldn't have been prouder of her if she were my own daughter.

The (non)gender issue didn't strike me the way it did you, for obvious reasons, but you make an important point. I think that whenever society makes a sea change, the people caught up in it HAVE to look at it as a monumental thing, because to them, it is. But the following generations, the beneficiaries if you will, see the change as just the way things are, and should be.

Interracial marraiges are a good example, and I hope one day that gay marriage will be looked at as casually as a mixed race union is now.

And yes, I think you did contribute to the attitude change that made Specialist Brown say "A soldier is a soldier." So thank you.

Janiece Murphy said...

Cindi, your remarks are spot-on, at least from my perspective.

When I joined, there were so many things women weren't "allowed" to do in the military. As a result of that, it was tough to make the argument that we were "equal" to the men - if I don't have the same risks and responsibilities as the men, but I claim the same power and privileges, then my "equality" is at best a red herring. I was made aware of this inequality every day of my service. While I did my best to try and address those things that were under my control (meeting the minimum physical fitness requirements for men, not women, and serving on a ship), the inequality was institutionalized, and it showed.

Specialist Brown (and my own daughter) see their unlimited options as their right, due them by virtue of their status as Americans. And they're correct.

I just had an experience when that was not the case, so I can more clearly recognize the "sea change."

It makes me feel old. But happy.

vince said...

And I hope proud. I served with several kick-ass women when I was in the Air Force, and it absolutely wasn't always easy for them. So as a veteran and an American, I salute all of those in the miltary like Specialist Brown.

Janiece Murphy said...

Vince, I am proud of my service, and glad that progress has been made.

It's a Good Thing.

Jeri said...

Her story is a great one - I saw it in the news last week as well. "Just doing her duty" keeps the rest of us safe in our own homes - so thank you, Specialist Brown!

Jim Wright said...

Ah, women don't belong in combat. They're soft and squishy and they'll distract the real warriors...

Urk, sorry, couldn't keep at it with a straight face.

It's stories like this that prove beyond any shadow of a doubt just how wrong that mindset is. Rock on, Specialist Brown, hell of a job and I'd expect nothing less.

Nathan said...

I've been reading SF full of kick-ass women commanders going into combat for so long that I suppose I didn't really notice when reality started catching up to fiction.

This is excellent.

Steve Buchheit said...

Hopefully this will change some of the minds that can say that first line in Jim's post and be utterly serious. A Silver Star is hard to argue against. This so beats the Jessica Lynch story from just five years ago.

Janiece Murphy said...

Steve, I thought of that, too. Specialist Brown appears to be a modest young woman, with a good head on her shoulders. I don't know if she'd allow herself to be used in that fashion.

Jim Wright said...

Well, to give Lynch her due - she never claimed to be a hero, and she told the truth right up front as soon as she was able. She was badly injured, and not particularly clear herself about what happened at first. It was the Army and the Administration that tried to turn her into some kind of bizarre super soldier.

She was one of the first women to be injured in direct combat in recent memory - and in this conflict. One of the very few female POW's - and the press and the public just couldn't get enough, fast enough - and what they couldn't get, they just made up with CNN leading the way (yeah, the CNN 'reporters' were all over the base in Bahrain asking about her when I was there - WTF would I know about some Army PFC?)

But what the hell was she supposed do? When everybody from the President to Rumsfeld to the whole American public were holding her up to the World as some kind of hero? And those powerful men didn't want to hear the real story, she was told it was for the good of the Nation, give the people a hero, vilify the enemy and show that the regular citizens who rescued and treated her secretly loved us and welcomed us - She was awfully young and she got caught up in it. She herself set the record straight soon enough.

I don't fault her for cutting a book deal and a movie. She might not have been a 'hero' but she sure as hell did her duty to the best of her ability, why shouldn't she make something from it? It's not like the folks who cheered her fives years ago are lining up to take care of her - and she'll need medical support for the rest of her life.

What chaps my ass here is that she was out there when it mattered, doing her job in hostile territory, she was seriously injured under combat conditions (yeah, a Hummer wreck in the escape, not bullets so the fuck what?), she was captured, and rescued and was nearly the sole survivor of her squad - her story is a hell of a story. And yet, because of what the Administration did, she's scorned by the same people who cheered her five years ago. That's just bullshit.

Sorry for the rant, but the Lynch 'story' is just another thing that pushes my buttons in regards to this lying administration. The truth would have been easier, and just as great a story.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I don't hold Jessica Lynch in contempt - she was a pawn, nothing more, and the key issue (as you note) is that she did her duty to the best of her ability.

I hold the administration in contempt for using her so poorly. Sanctimonious Asshats.

But since Specialist Brown was not injured to the point where she couldn't tell her own story right out of the gate, I think her story (and subsequent decoration) won't be available for manipulation the way Private Lynch's was.

Jim Wright said...

Janiece, I never thought you did - though rereading my froth I can certainly see that you might have taken it that way. And I think you're right. In fact, at this point, nobody is seeing much out of the White House about individual soldiers - frankly I think that the Pentagon and GWB hope nobody will notice that soldiers are still in combat situations.

Sorry, again, about the rant - it's just that the whole deal surrounding Lynch chaps my ass. I see it as the very epitome of this deceitful administration.

Janiece Murphy said...

No need to apologize, Jim - I understand, as it burns my ass, too.

It wasn't enough that this poor young woman was disabled in the line of duty, a former POW, etc., etc...the administration impugned her character in the public's eyes to serve their own ends.

I see her as a victim of a corrupt administration's deceit and chicanery. I hope she can make a good life for herself...

Steve Buchheit said...

Jim, I also agree, which is why it was the" Jessica Lynch story," not "Jessica Lynch's story." Unfortunately the news doesn't see Specialist Brown as an interesting story to be touted on all the news channels, which is a shame.

And that's not meant to be a shot at Private Lynch. I agree that much of the bruhaha around her was manufactured to portray and enforce a political viewpoint and that she wasn't in control of the situation or the story at that point. And instead of people being upset at those that manufactured the story when she was able to tell the truth, instead they got upset at Lynch for harshing their own mellow when she was able to tell the truth.