Women in Combat: Listening to Those Who Have Been There


When I heard Leon Panetta’s announcement about lifting the combat restrictions on women in the military, I immediately thought of former Army National Guard Sergeant Paigh Bumgarner.

Bumgarner had deployed to Iraq, where she had served as a convoy gunner in a unit that came under fire.

“Once we got through,” Bumgarner recalls, “they tried to hit us with a VBED [vehicle-borne explosive device], but I ordered ‘No one gets close to this convoy, so it was taken out, a confirmed kill.”

Bumgarner told me, in a interview for my book, When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans, that she put the remains of her best friend in a body bag. She got the medics to bandage up the soldiers who had sustained shrapnel damage.

As she recalls, “I remember during the craziness of everything, the first sergeant [we were escorting] came up and tried to take over, and I was like, ‘I’m in control of this convoy….After that, all the guys were like, ‘I’ll go anywhere with you. I’ll follow you anywhere.’”

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Copyright © 2013 Time Inc. This article first appeared in Time.com January 29, 2013.