First woman to lead U.S. troops in battle

Mar 13, 2019

As we commemorate Women's History Month, let's remember Capt. Linda L. Bray, who became the first woman to lead U.S. troops in battle during the invasion of Panama in 1989.

Bray commanded the 988th Military Police Company out of Ft. Benning, Georgia, 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. Three PDF soldiers were killed and one was taken prisoner.

Afterward, Bray’s troops discovered the PDF troops had left behind a mini-arsenal, including AK-47s, M16 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.

Publicity surrounding the assault brought issues concerning women in combat to the forefront of public opinion. Military police units were supposed 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 a line.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., 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 ensued, and Schroeder's bill died after generals lobbied against women in combat roles.

The Army refused to grant Bray and other female soldiers who fought in Panama the Combat Infantryman Badge. She did receive the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, an award for a non-combat role.

When Panamanian officials alleged that Bray and her soldiers had destroyed government and personal property, she became the subject of an Army investigation.

Although she was cleared, Bray opted out. She requested and received an official discharge from the Army in April 1991. Women's roles in the military have changed significantly since then. Bray died in September 2011 at age 58.

Community Clergy Training Program

Many veterans and their families seek help from clergy, but most clergy are not schooled in dealing with the unique issues of returning warriors. A Community Clergy Training Program is being offered Friday, April 26, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hope Lutheran Church, 1520 Union St., Bangor. Lunch will be provided.

Participants will gain knowledge that can improve their pastoral care skills for dealing with veterans and their families, examine case studies, hear from veterans firsthand, and learn when and how to refer veterans and their family members to the VA.

To register, visit https://cctphlcbangorapr19.eventbrite.com.

VA2K Walk & Roll

VA facilities across the nation are once again holding VA2K walk and roll events on May 15 to raise employee awareness of the importance of physical fitness and general awareness of the need to support homeless veterans.

Participants are welcome to bring a household item to donate to the homeless veterans program. Without donations, many veterans will have no household items to support their transition from a shelter to housing.

The VA2K is for VA employees, veterans and community members at all levels of fitness and is an easy distance (1.2 miles) that allows most participants to complete it during a 30-minute lunch break.

The VA Maine Healthcare System has consistently been a national leader in donations received. Maine cares about its homeless veterans! Please keep in mind VA staff cannot ask for donations but can share a wish list when asked. Note that gift cards cannot be listed, but can be accepted.

The VA2K will be held Wednesday, May 15, at the Togus VA campus in Augusta, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the gazebo. The fun includes a cookout (cash only), dunk tank, walk, music, Health Fair and more. There will be a tram available.

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