“I knew I’d be deploying to the Middle East eventually, but NEVER was I told I’d be going on patrols and laying in the prone with 11Bs [infantrymen], getting attacked by Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) or Taliban. NEVER did I think I’d be working alongside Iraqi and Afghan soldiers, eating with them, joking with them, and fighting with them. My recruiter painted a very flowery image of my job, always being in an office type place. He failed to tell me I could be attached to an infantry unit fighting the enemy.” -SGT “Jenna”
The Phone Call
Jenna wasn’t really planning on joining the Army. She was attending New England College (NEC), a small, liberal arts college in New Hampshire, majoring in Criminal Justice. On one fateful day, a phone call came for her roommate. Being the only one in the room, Jenna answered the call and began a discussion with a United States Army recruiter. When the recruiter learned of her tri-lingual abilities (Jenna speaks English, Japanese, and Korean), he began telling her of the adventures, world travels, and relative safety of a job as a military linguist. Jenna pictured herself in office buildings or embassies throughout the world. This is a normal pitch by the United States Army: come be a linguist and work in civilian clothes translating for foreign military officers and dignitaries! Based on her discussions with the recruiter, she decided to place her NEC education on hold and enlist in the US Army.
On Valentine’s Day of 2006, Jenna shipped to basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, and then moved on to advanced individual training (AIT) at Ft. Huachuca, AZ.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
A year had passed since graduating basic training and despite Jenna’s demonstrated Korean language skills, she was not sent to Korea, but received orders for Hawaii. Although a bit disappointed she wouldn’t get to use her language skills, she was excited to enjoy the island and spend some time on the beach. She checked into her unit in April of 2007 and was told she would now start preparing for deployment to Iraq by the end of the year; welcome to the 25th Infantry Division.
Jenna deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq, with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, not to a foreign embassy wearing civilian clothes doing some occasional interpreting. In fact, she wasn’t even on a large forward operating base but provided direct support to scouts and infantrymen on the streets of Iraq, spending a lot of time at small outposts like Combat Operating Post (COP) Falahat and Joint Security Station Istiqlal, a joint US-Iraqi base where 600 US soldiers were dedicated to training Iraqi forces. She quickly proved that she was to be treated as a soldier, not a female and with the exception of separate living quarters and dedicated shower times, she didn’t receive special treatment.
Being a female in combat was never a big deal to Jenna. But being surrounded by almost all men 24/7 at the smaller outposts was one of the harder parts about the deployment. She missed having a girl around to talk to when times were tough. On occasion, she did get to relax at Camp Taji and bond with another female in a similar situation. Betty was a member of a personal security detachment (PSD) comprised of mostly males. When they got together, they were able to vent, whine, and do “girly stuff.” When times were really tough for Jenna, she was glad to have Betty or to be able to call her parents to talk it out.
In March of 2009, Jenna returned to Hawaii as a Sergeant (grade E-5) after 15 months in Iraq. Many soldiers return from combat visibly and/or mentally changed. Other soldiers come home from combat and immediately resume normal life. It doesn’t matter what a soldier did or saw in combat; soldiers are just affected in different ways. When Jenna got back to Hawaii, she went shopping. The 15 month deployment was rough, but she was proud of what she had accomplished and was happy to be home. Faced with the decision to reenlist or get out of the Army, Jenna decided to reenlist for assignment at Ft. Campbell, KY.
Operation Enduring Freedom
Jenna arrived at Ft. Campbell and checked in to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in April of 2010. While staying in the Army was a personal choice, she requested Ft. Campbell to be with her new fiancé SSG P. But their reunion at Ft. Campbell was short lived as they were both deployed to Afghanistan within a few months. On June 11, 2010, Jenna deployed to join her unit and the rest of the Screaming Eagles in Afghanistan. Once again, she would not get to stay at the larger FOB with the brigade headquarters; she was sent to the Laghman Province to support a National Guard infantry unit.
In early August, an Afghan National Army (ANA) unit conducted a mission without US support, and they were defeated in an embarrassing fashion. Many ANA soldiers were killed and as many as 20 may have been kidnapped according to the New York Times. In the aftermath of that event, Jenna’s unit had been conducting operations to find the missing soldiers.
“She got hit! She got hit!”
Around midnight on the 22nd of August, 2010, Jenna and her unit prepared for what would be their forth air assault mission in less than one month. The operation was yet another follow up on a lead to the whereabouts of the missing soldiers. This mission would be particularly dangerous because it was not the normal area of operations for her unit.
The mission involved two infantry companies searching a valley. A Company and B Company, Jenna’s unit, would clear the valley and meet at the top of a mountain for helicopter extraction. As expected, the missing soldiers were nowhere to be found and none of the village residents had any information to give.
B Company began the hike back up the mountain and waited for A Company to complete their search. Drenched in sweat and dehydrated, they dropped their assault packs and began to relax. As A Company reported they were on their way up, they were attacked. The B Company troops instantly began searching for cover, but there was none to be found on top of the mountain.
After 15 months in Iraq and three months in Afghanistan, this was Jenna’s first fire fight. She grabbed her weapon and moved to a position to observe the enemy. Hearing the small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades, she kneeled to see if she could identify the source. She then experienced what she describes as getting hit in her left leg with a baseball going 100 MPH. A nearby medic looked over at her and began yelling, “She got hit! She got hit!”
Fellow soldiers dragged Jenna through the gunfire to a spot higher up the mountain. Still confused about what was happening to her, three combat medics quickly removed her boot and sock to reveal a clean bullet hole through her left calf. They assured her everything was going to be just fine even though from her view, it didn’t look very fine. They gave her a shot of morphine that reacted very negatively considering she was dehydrated. Jenna could not move, but she could still see, hear, and most importantly, feel everything. After about ten minutes, she regained the ability to move and realized that they were still receiving enemy gunfire, and she was pissed off. Not helping matters, one of the medics leaned on her wound seeking cover from enemy fire. After 40 minutes, Jenna, two other American soldiers, and an Afghani soldier were evacuated by helicopter.
The next day, Jenna was flown to Bagram Air Base where she was presented the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge by the commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division. After an initial surgery mainly to disinfect and clean the wound, she was flown to Germany. In Germany, her wound was sutured and by Labor Day, she was home at Ft. Campbell.
Jenna is still recovering and will have lots of physical therapy to endure in the coming months. While she doesn’t know if or when she’ll be returning to Afghanistan, her fiancé SSG P is still deployed and fighting with the 101st, and she herself has two and a half years remaining in the Army.
Jenna is a female, non-commissioned officer in the United States Army. Despite what her recruiter may have told her, she’s patrolled side-by-side with infantrymen, scouts, Iraqis and Afghanis. She can tell you that females have important roles on the battlefield, not just as medics, female engagement teams (FETs), or female searchers, but as soldiers fighting the war on terrorism.
Please leave a note for her below and if you know her personally, please refrain from addressing her by her full, real name in your comments
I first got to know Jenna when she emailed me before basic training to ask about the Korean language test. I helped her study and gave her some tips for the test and thought I’d never hear from her again. Many months later, I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, with the 101st Airborne Division and she emailed me to let me know she was about to start training. Since then, we’ve stayed in constant contact, and I’ve followed her military career closely offering advice and mentorship when possible. I can’t even begin to tell you what I felt when I heard that she had been shot. I am so proud of her for what she’s done so far and can’t wait to see how much more she will be contributing to this nation’s security. Take a minute and leave an encouraging comment for her… a female fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.