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Kellie McCoy
11.09.2018 93787729342

"Those were my soldiers out there. It would never occur to me to leave soldiers behind."

On the afternoon of September 18, 2003 a small convoy of American soldiers from Headquarters Company of the 82nd Airborne Division's 307th Engineering Battalion were making their way through the war-torn streets of Fallujah, Iraq.  It had been six months since the American Invasion of Iraq, and, while Saddam's power was broken and the government had been toppled, there were still determined pockets of Baathist resistance all across the country – and particularly centered in the soon-to-be-infamous streets of Fallujah.  When this small U.S. convoy, just two Humvees and two five-ton trucks, rolled through town, the Iraqi resistance was ready, lying in wait to spring a particularly-nasty trap for the Americans.

Buildings lined to streets in both directions, each concealing hidden fighters clutching AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, waiting for the signal to begin their ambush.  And as the lead vehicle in the American convoy detonated the first of the three daisy-chained IED explosives that were lining the street, these men popped up from their cover and immediately began laying down a barrage of gunfire into their well-orchestrated killzone.



The next IED detonated just fifteen feet from the second vehicle in the convoy.  This Humvee contained the American detachment's commander, Captain Kellie McCoy from St. Louis, Missouri.  McCoy was a 29 year-old West Point grad who stood just five feet tall but had already earned the respect of the 180 men under her command.  It was just her third day in-country in Iraq, but she was already a veteran platoon leader who had led troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania during the Yugoslavian War of 1999.  She was a jump-trained Airborne soldier, and he'd volunteered to ride in the second Humvee in the convoy for the sole reason that there had been a rumor among American troops that the second  truck in the convoy was always the one that got blown up first – and McCoy wasn't about to be intimidated by her enemies.

She was about to prove it again.



The situation with the convoy was bad.  Like, ambush scene in Con Air bad.

McCoy had 11 guys strung out along the road in four vehicles, and her team was taking enfilading fire from both sides.  The lead Humvee was destroyed and out of action, and some of the crew had been ejected from the vehicle and were now stunned and concussed out in the open.  The truck in the back of the convoy was knocked out by RPG fire almost immediately, and Iraqi troops with RPGs and AKs were unloading on the U.S. convoy from incredibly close range, while other enemy elements were rapidly closing in to overrun the Americans in the confusion. 

Captain McCoy flicked the safety off of her M4, told her roof gunner to fire up the .50 cal, and ordered her driver to head straight for those Airborne soldiers that were caught out in the open.



Driving through a killzone with enemy rounds pinging off the armor-plated hull of her Humvee, Kellie McCoy drove ahead, reaching her dazed and wounded men.  Then, with enemy troops closing as close as fifteen feet from her position, McCoy jumped out of the Humvee and rushed to the men, firing her rifle at anything that popped its head up.  She grabbed both wounded men, and piled them into her Humvee, laying down covering fire for her guys first with her M4, and then with her pistol when she fired every round in her rifle mag. 

Once those guys were loaded up, McCoy's Humvee flipped a u-turn and drove back into the ambush to pick up the crews of the five-ton trucks. 



Machine gun, rifle, and RPG fire continued to rain down on the Americans, as the roof gunner sprayed the enemy with .50 cal rounds and the driver darted his vehicle through the burning wreckage of the convoy.  The Airborne soldiers made their way through the ambush, to where the rest of their team were trying to take cover behind one of the trucks.  Once again, McCoy got out of her Humvee, into the teeth of enemy fire, and laid down covering rifle and pistol fire while the rest of her team somehow piled twelve guys into a Humvee that was designed to carry five men.

Once her team was collected, Captain McCoy piled into the crowded truck and ordered her driver to get the hell out of there.  As enemy fire crashed all around the Humvee, the Americans somehow made it out of there in one piece – despite being massively outnumbered, having three of their four vehicles disabled, and facing an entrenched enemy in carefully-planned ambush positions, the 82nd Airborne had successfully their way out of a horrifically-bad situation while suffering just three wounded soldiers and no KIAs.  The roof gunner of the main Humvee had fired through 500 rounds, and Captain McCoy is personally credited with four enemy kills during the course of the battle.  For her calmness under fire, her ability to command her team out of a murderous ambush, and her bravery in repeatedly exposing herself to enemy fire in a single-minded mission to get her team out of this situation alive, she would be awarded with the Bronze Star with a "V" Device (for valor in combat) a few months later.   A lot of people who write about this story like to make a big deal of the fact that she is one of the first women in American history to receive a medal of valor for commanding soldiers in combat, and that is pretty unbelievably awesome if you ask me, but, honestly, I'd argue that any officer who fights their way out of an organized ambush, drives head-on into a killzone to save their men, exits a bulletproof vehicle in the middle of a firefight (twice!) so they can save wounded guys, and then successfully extracts their team without losing a single man is pretty much the definition of badass.



Kellie McCoy would go on to cover 20,000 miles in six months during her first deployment in Iraq, driving and coordinating 10 different elements of the 307th Engineering Battalion as they helped secure Iraq and build up its infrastructure.  She would serve three more tours in Iraq, earning another Bronze Star and promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in the process, and then command elements of the famous Tenth Mountain Division over the course of two tours of duty in Afghanistan.




NY Times

NY Daily News



YouTube Interview


Suggested Reading:

Wise, James E.  Women at War.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011.

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Tags: 21st century | Military Commander | Rescue | Soldier | Special Forces | United States | US Army | War Hero | War on Terror | Women

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