This is the story of a little girl who became a paratrooper and won a medal.
Monica Lin Brown was born May 24th 1988, she was three when her parents divorced. Her brother Justin was a year older. Her mother worked night shifts, as a nurse in hospitals in the Houston, Texas area. Her mother was seriously injured in a car accident and grandma moved in to raise the kids. Kopperl High School near Waco was Monica’s ninth school in eleven years. She played tennis, volleyball, softball, was a cheerleader and ran cross country. Running was her passion. She said; “Running is like meditation for me, I can just think, without anyone talking to me.” Brother Justin had been fascinated with the army since he could remember, and by the time he was 13 he had decided that was what he was going to do. Monica graduated from high school a year early, when she was 17. After graduating from high school, Monica and Justin moved to Lake Jackson, Texas to be near their father’s mother. Monica had become interested in radiology through an aunt who was an X-ray technician. Accompanying her brother to the Army Recruiter’s office in November 2005, she found that she could get that training in the Army. Unfortunately that field was closed, so she enlisted to be a Healthcare Specialist (Combat Medic). She went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, then transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas (San Antonio), for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) the 16 week 68W course. The first eight weeks is the national EMT course, during which they are National EMT certified, the second eight weeks is army combat medic training. It was there that Monica met a drill sergeant whose impact would help define who she would become in the Army. She said; “She was high-speed and airborne-qualified. Her independence and strong personality set her apart. I wanted to be high-speed like that. She was from the 82nd and had that maroon beret and the Airborne patch. I knew I wanted to be like her.” After AIT and Airborne School she was assigned to the Forward Support Company which was attached to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Soon after her arrival, her unit started preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. On February 7th 2007 she arrived at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Salerno. At that time all the medical facilities were in tents, the operating room, CT machines, everything. At first she didn’t leave the base. She said; “The first actual patient I worked on was an Afghani man who had a gunshot to his leg. My reaction was ‘My gosh, this is a real person and these are real injuries, this isn’t training anymore.’ That’s when the switch flipped and I think everything changed over from training to me really liking my job.” Then in March a small outpost occupied by Charlie and Delta Troops of the 4th 73rd Cav requested a female medic. Brown got the assignment. It was little more than a cluster of tents walled off with dirt filled barriers and no running water. Brown’s aid station was an 8-by-5 foot area barely big enough for a stretcher. “I loved it,” she said. She went on some resupply and humanitarian missions with Delta Troop. Any treatment of an Afghanistan woman had to be by another woman.
Charlie Troop was running combat patrols and in April its medic went on leave. At that time women weren’t supposed to be assigned with front line units, but PFC (Private First Class) Monica Brown was the only available medic. Charlie Troop received orders to go on a Search and Capture mission. They would be out for five nights. The patrol consisted of four up-armored Humvees and one Afghan National Army (ANA) pickup truck. Having spent the night just outside the small village of Jani Khel, Charlie Troop was informed on Wednesday morning, April 25th 2007 that two Taliban activists lived in the village. They spent the day searching the village and found nothing, the bad guys had gone. At dusk they started moving out of the village, one by one turning off of the road into a dry river bed adjacent to the road.
PFC Brown was riding in the Humvee with the Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jose Santos. She didn’t hear the explosion, but the .50 cal gunner on her Humvee yelled down “Two one’s hit. I see smoke and a tire rolling through the field.” The trail Humvee, with five soldiers inside, had rolled over a pressure plate IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Looking back they saw the Humvee engulfed in a fireball as its fuel tank and fuel cans ignited. PFC Brown instinctively grabbed her bag and her weapon and opened the door. The .50 cal gunner yelled down “Shut the door”, as incoming machinegun fire started pinging the Humvee. They were caught in an ambush. As the .50 cal gunner turned around and started putting suppressive fire at the enemy, SSG Santos yelled “Let’s go Doc”. With SSG Santos a couple steps ahead, they ran through the heavy silt of the river bed about 300 meters (that’s about 1000 feet) through machinegun and rifle fire to the burning vehicle. Four of the injured had crawled or been thrown from the vehicle, the fifth, Specialist Larry Spray was caught inside by his boot and was on fire. Sergeant Zachary Tellier managed to pull him out.
Exhausted when arriving, Brown saw that all five of the soldiers were stumbling, burned and cut. Specialists Stanson Smith and Larry Spray were critical. Spray had severe burns and Smith was in shock from a severe laceration on his forehead blinding him. Brown and one of the lessor injured grabbed Smith by his body armor and dragged him into a ditch about 15 yards away. Sergeant Tellier got Spray to the cover. The other vehicles were turning around to form a crescent formation and began to return fire. As soon as they got to the ditch, the enemy started dropping mortar rounds around them. Brown threw her body over Smith, shielding him and yelled to another soldier to “cover up” the other casualty, as more than a dozen rounds landed around them. Then the ammunition inside the burning Humvee started exploding, 60mm mortars, 40mm grenade rounds and rifle ammunition. Again, Brown lay over the wounded. Lieutenant Robbins, the Platoon Leader, moved his Humvee near the injured and was incredulous that Brown had survived. He said, “I was surprised I didn’t get killed and she’d been there for 10 to 15 minutes or longer. There was small arms fire coming in from two different machine-gun positions, mortars falling, a burning Humvee with 16 mortar rounds in it, chunks of aluminum the size of softballs flying all around. It was about as hairy as it gets.” SSG Santos drove the ANA pickup over to get the wounded, he would later recall that bullets were flying within inches of Brown, but she was focused on the casualties. Lieutenant Robbins said of her calm demeanor under fire, “She was focused on the patients the whole time. She did her job perfectly.” Brown and SSG Santos hoisted Smith onto the truck, while Spray crouched behind the back window and Brown dived onto a bench in the back. There, she put pressure on Smith’s head, which was bleeding heavily, and also held the hand of Spray, who was charred and shaking. She told Spray “Talk to him”, trying to keep Smith conscious. Spray, his face contorted with pain and fear, responded, “It’s going to be okay”. SSG Santos drove across the river and stopped behind one of the Humvees, there Brown set up her Casualty Collection Point. Smith was bleeding heavily and slipping in and out of consciousness, Spray had extensive burns on his legs, chest and back. Brown bandaged Smith, started IV’s on both, and covered Spray’s burns with gauze and put him in a hypothermia bag. She soon had them stabilized and prepped for medevac, but it was another 45 minutes before the helicopters arrived. Eighteen year old Monica Brown recalled; “When the medevac bird was taking off and everything was quiet, my ears were still ringing. I couldn’t hear anything. I was walking through the field back to the Humvees, through shin-high green grass, blowing because the bird was taking off. I remember thinking, ‘Did that just really happen? Did I do everything right?’ When I got back to the trucks the guys were all hugging me and thanking me.”
Staff Sergeant Aaron Best, who was Lieutenant Robbins .50 cal gunner that day, said; “I’ve seen a lot of grown men who didn’t have the courage and weren’t able to handle themselves under fire like she did. She never missed a beat.”
Two days later she was abruptly pulled from the field. She had attracted too much attention.
Specialists Smith and Spray were flown back to the US and recovered from their wounds.
On March 21st 2008, the Army flew Monica’s brother Justin to Bagram Air base to stand beside her as Vice President Dick Cheney presented nineteen year old, five foot two, 120 pound, Combat Medic, Army Specialist Monica Lin Brown the Silver Star, making her the second and last female to be awarded the Nation’s third highest award for valor in combat, since World War II.
Monica said she never expected to be in a situation like that and credits her training and instructors for her actions that day. She said; “I realized that everything I had done during the attack was just rote memory.”
All the major news services did stories on Monica, but unfortunately notoriety sometimes attracts the wrong kind of attention. Some scammers from some country in Africa used her pictures and story in a money scam, so she has since dropped completely out of the public eye. She was promoted to Sergeant, before she left the Army, but she only left temporarily. In December 2010 she was in the Bachelor of Science Nursing program at University of North Carolina-Pembroke and was in the Army ROTC program. My guess is that she is now a Captain in the Army Nurse Corps.