woman gunner

There is no stereotype for heroism, no prediction of behavior under stress, and no formula for courage. Women and men perform incredible acts of bravery when presented with dangerous situations - it is an individual thing - not one about male or female strength or ability.

In World War One, in Belgium, Army Nurse Helen Grace McClelland was on duty with the surgical team at a forward British casualty clearing station. During a bombardment by German aircraft Nurse McClelland continued working on patients and also saved fellow nurse Beatrice MacDonald, who was injured during the air raid, from hemorraging. Gender wasn't an issue.

WWI nurse
WWI Nurse

During World War Two Ellen Ainsworth, a 24-year-old Army nurse from Glenwood City, Wisconsin, performed heroically during the Battle of Anzio in Italy. Lieutenant Ainsworth was on duty in a hospital ward near the Anzio beachhead. In an enemy artillery bombardment, a shell hit the hospital. Despite the severe damage to the hospital, the Wisconsin nurse calmly moved her patients to safety. She was wounded in the attack and died six days later. Gender had nothing to do with it.

WWII nurse
WW2 Nurse

In Vietnam in 1970 when SP5 Karen L. Offutt,** WAC, U.S. Army, risked her life to rescue Vietnamese adults and children from burning structures, without regard for her personal safety, she didn't stop to think about her gender.

Soldiers Medal
SP5 Karen Offutt in 1970

1989- ASM3 Kelly Mogk was one of the first female rescue swimmers ** in the Coast Guard and was the only woman, at that time, to graduate from the Navy Rescue Swimmer School in Pensacola. On January 3, 1989 during her first rescue case as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Aviation Survivalman Third Class Mogk, played the key part in the rescue and life saving of a downed Air National Guard jet pilot who had ejected from an F-4 over the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise. She was awarded the Air Medal and congratulated in person by then President George Bush. Admiral Paul Yost, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard, cited Mogk's courageous feat as one of the most deserving of a place in any account of the outstanding rescue achievements during the Coast Guard's 200-year history.
This was the first actual mission of the first woman to qualify as a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard or any other branch of the Armed Services. Her aircraft commander for the mission, Lieutenant Commander Peterson, was quoted at the time that in his 12 years of flying rescues missions, the conditions were worse than any he had seen for putting a rescue swimmer down to render assistance to an individual in distress. Even upon departure from Air Station Astoria, OR, it was understood that the rescue swimmer would most likely need to enter the water to assist the ejected pilot. The sea state was sixteen-foot waves with a six-foot, wind driven chop, and a temperature of fifty-six degrees. The pilot was severely hypothermic and near death with extensive, life threatening injuries from ejecting at a speed of 600 miles per hour. Because of his injuries and hypothermia, he could not communicate with his rescuer. To complicate matters, the pilot was ensnarled in the shrouds of his parachute. Mogk had to dive under repeatedly to free the shrouds from the disabled pilot. She put her own life at risk when she removed her gloves in order to expedite the removal of the shrouds, exposing herself to hypothermic affects of the water seeping into her wet suit.
After she freed the pilot for hook recovery up to the helicopter, Kelly was left alone in the rough, cold sea to wait for a backup helicopter to pick her up, so that the recovery helicopter could quickly get the recovered pilot to medical treatment facilities. Consequently, Mogk had to fight the quick acting effects of hypothermia until the backup helicopter picked her up. After recovery, she collapsed from the affects of hypothermia and physical injuries incurred in the rescue. Because of her courageous example, ASM3 Mogk immensely enhanced the reputation of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer program.
Source: DEOMI
** Catherine Elliott (Rizzo) HMC (AC) USN Ret. was actually the very first woman to graduate from Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron in Jacksonville, Fl. and become a Rescue Swimmer on 16 Dec 1983. Catherine worked very hard to complete this grueling school and flew Search and Rescue missions up until her retirement in 1995. She received many awards for rescues and even completed one ground rescue while 3 months pregnant!

While on duty on Aug. 21st 1999, Sgt. 1st Class Jeanne M. Balcombe's quick thinking and selfless response safeguarded and protected others at the Troop Medical Clinic at Camp Red Cloud, Korea. She placed herself in harm's way between three soldiers and an armed gunman. Sergeant Balcombe gave her life. She didn't stop to worry about gender.

Soldiers Medal
Sgt Jeanne M. Balcombe

In October 2000 on board the USS Cole Navy women acted without regard to their gender. HM3 Tayinikia Campbell, 24, was working with Seaman Eben Sanchez in Cole's sick bay when the explosion hit the ship. Sick Bay filled with smoke and they rushed out. Campbell immediately set up an improvised triage area in the cramped passageway, worked frantically to provide medical care to the wounded under the dim lighting of the battle lanterns and still found time to coach other sailors to help in tending the wounded.

HM3 Tayinikia Campbell

GSM1(SW) Margaret Lopez was working in Cole's oil lab when the blast hit. With burns covering her body, she helped save a shipmate, then escaped through the hole in the side of the ship into the waters of the Port of Aden.
GSM1 Margaret Lopez

GM2 Jennifer Long manned a 50 caliber machine gun onboard USS Cole during the attack on the ship.
GM2 Jennifer Long

The ship's chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Deborah Courtney, worked around the clock for nearly four days to reverse flooding and isolate exposed electrical cables that threatened to turn thousands of gallons of fuel into a blazing inferno.

Lt Cmdr Courtney

Women have been saving lives for centuries, in many fields - firefighters, police officers, medics, and the military - yet the media still focuses on heroes - not heroines. In times of crisis women will act equally as brave - and heroines will emerge - for heroism knows no gender.

See also women medal recipients and the women who gave their lives in service.

** On 7 April 2001, Karen Offutt, now a mother of 3, and grandmother of 2, was awarded The Soldiers Medal for her heroism in Vietnam of over thirty years ago.
Learn more about Karen by visiting her website at Walk With Me

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996 to date by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)