First Woman to Lead US Troops In Battle

Linda Bray

CPT, US Army
Operation Just Cause (Panama)

During the invasion of Panama in 1989, CPT Linda Bray became the first woman to lead US troops in battle. CPT Bray commanded of the 988th Military Police Company out of Ft. Benning, GA, and ordered her assault team to fire on soldiers of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) who refused to surrender their positions at a dog kennel. She anticipated a routine operation, but the battle turned into a three-hour, infantry-style firefight.

CPT Bray’s troops made a startling discovery when they crashed through the kennel gate to secure the area. PDF troops had fled leaving a mini-arsenal behind including more than a dozen AK-47s, M-16 assault rifles, cases of fragmentation grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Forty military cots, a cache of Cuban money and spare uniforms suggested that the dog kennel was a barracks for Special Operations troops. Three PDF soldiers were killed and one was taken prisoner.

Publicity surrounding the assault brought issues concerning women in combat to the forefront of public opinion. By definition, military police units were designated to perform tactical operations at the rear of a battlefield. Even though they were combat-ready, their mission was considered noncombatant. The 988th’s assault on the dog kennel had crossed the line between a peacetime mission and a combat mission.

Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder immediately called for legislation to open up all jobs in the Army to women for an experimental four years. She pointed out that combat exclusion policies failed to keep women out of combat and restricted women’s careers. Controversy flew in the press, Congress, the Department of Defense and the public as CPT Bray swirled at the epicenter. She requested and received an official discharge from the Army in April 1991.