​Special Online Exhibit: A New Generation of Warriors

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The Women of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom—
Vital Members of the Combat Team

By Sept. 11, 2001, military women were some 15 percent of America’s military. Women were serving in nearly every rank and unit of the force and were filling critical technical, leadership and warfighting positions. So, when the Global War on Terror was declared, it was not surprising that women were among the first to deploy to the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, one after another of the myths and preconceived notions about military women and their place in the combat environment have slipped away. The laws prohibiting women from serving aboard combat aircraft and ships were cleared from the books; and even though the Army and Marine Corps maintain “policy” restrictions on those jobs and assignments identified as direct combat, many women are “first string” players, filling essential combat roles—their training and skill determining promotions and job assignments in most units, not gender. Today, women serve side-by-side with their fellow servicemembers—men and women—often exposed to combat, taking as well as returning enemy fire. From peacekeeping and humanitarian operations to the combat arena, women have thrived in this fast-paced environment, demonstrating their technical proficiency, excelling as leaders and securing their place as vital members of the team.

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Combat Knows No Gender
In today’s wars, women’s roles have rapidly evolved to meet the ever-changing environment, the needs of an unconventional battlefield and an undefined combat zone. By March 2010, 129 women had lost their lives as a result of their deployment in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Seventy of these deaths were a result of hostile action—more than any previous war. In these wars, combat knows no gender.

Particular recognition is given to the fallen heroines of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom in the Memorial’s Hall of Honor—the place where those women who died in service, were prisoners of war or were recipients of our nation’s highest awards for service and bravery are specifically honored. Here, all 129 are part of a living memorial, an in-memoriam honor roll that includes their pictures and records of service, guaranteeing their permanent place in American history.

Honoring America’s Heroines

“I will see her name here and it will be a reminder of her loss
but also of her life, her service and her sacrifice.”

— BG Loree Sutton, USA
Keynote Remarks, “Fallen Military Women Quilt” Unveiling

Another special tribute to the fallen heroines of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom can be found in The Register, the very heart of the Memorial. It is here that the records of service of thousands of military women can be found. It seems fitting that the “Fallen Military Women Quilt” with its names is displayed here among comrades, past and present.

Crafted by a group of women quilters in Moro, Ore., who were led by retired Army SSG Donna Birtwistle, the quilt features the names of the first 113 women who lost their lives in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The quilters’ intent was to pay tribute to the fallen women.

The project soon took on new meaning when on May 11, 2008, Mother’s Day, Army CPL Jessica Ellis, a young woman from just down the road in Bend, Ore., was killed in Iraq. Hitting close to home, her death rallied the quilters and community—businesses and townspeople donated supplies, volunteered to cut fabric, and even funded travel costs for 14 quilters to attend the Sept. 17, 2008, quilt unveiling at the Women’s Memorial.

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One Woman’s Story:
CPL Jessica A. Ellis, USA, 1983-2008

By sharing just a fragment of one young servicewoman’s story, we gain immeasurable insight into the rich, complex, dynamic and inspiring story of all military women.

CPL Jessica Ann Ellis deployed to Iraq twice—both times as a combat medic with the Army’s storied “Screaming Eagles,” the elite 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based out of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Born in Burley, Idaho, on June 26, 1983, Jessica was the second child of Steve and Linda Ellis, now of Bend, Ore. She was like many high school students, running cross country and participating on her school’s track and field and swim teams. Graduating from Lakeview High School, Lakeview, Ore., in 2002, she went on to get her associate’s degree from Central Oregon Community College, working during her summer breaks in Fremont National Forest as a US Forest Service wildland firefighter.
In September 2004, the same year she graduated from college, Jessica enlisted in the Army and reported to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., for nine weeks of basic training where she learned the fundamentals of being a solider. Then on to Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, where she received combat medic training—learning all aspects of emergency medical treatment and evacuation of casualties, under a variety of battlefield conditions, including enemy fire.
Armed with the skills for her first assignment, now SPC Jessica Ellis reported to Ft. Campbell in 2005, assigned to 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team and 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). In short order, Jessica deployed with her unit to Iraq until September 2006.
A year later, Jessica left for her second Iraq tour, again, as a medic in the same battalion she served with during her first tour. Jessica, or “Doc Ellis” as she was known, often worked at Camp Liberty’s Riva Ridge Clinic when not accompanying combat engineer units on hazardous route clearance missions in Baghdad. It was during one such mission on May 11, 2008, that multiple EFP (explosively formed penetrator) warheads struck her vehicle. Jessica died of wounds suffered in the attack. She was 24-years-old.

Route clearance missions are particularly dangerous, and the five to 10 vehicle convoys traveling at 5-10 mph are easy targets. Their missions last between four and 12 hours, and every patrol member participates, even the medic. Often seated in the route clearing vehicle or “Buffalo,” the medic and the other patrol members scan the roadside for anything out of the norm. Anything unusual leads to a halt of the entire convoy to inspect.

CPL Jessica Ellis, promoted posthumously, was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. She was also the recipient of the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Medic Badge and Combat Action Badge.

Jessica was buried with full military honors in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Dear Mom & Dad …

Letters and V-mail—taking weeks to arrive—and sporadic but coveted phone calls were the means by which military women had stayed close to family and friends during war. But the advent of the Internet, e-mail, improved telephone service, and even video-conferencing ushered in a new era of nearly real-time connection to folks back home. Like so many of today’s deployed military women, CPL Jessica Ellis, wrote e-mails to her family during her two tours of duty in Iraq—about her daily life, requests from home, and of her love for her family. Full text of individual e-mails are not available in this online exhibit.