I had the privilege of talking with Teresa Broadwell Grace, a former member of the Army’s 194th Military Police Company who, in 2003 was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with “V” for Valor in Iraq.
Combat, an outstanding story of survival, management of post traumatic stress and an unexpected transition back into the civilian world are part of Teresa Grace’s story. All this as she began her third decade of life.
The story series is reprinted from the author’s website (helenakaufman.com) and was originally written for Lanterloon.com, a military writing site.
The original interview went a little differently than expected in January 2012. It was scheduled around Teresa Grace’s roles of wife, office assistant and household manager. Then it was rescheduled because of a priority call to mommy duty for three children, all under the age of six.
At the start, life pretty much sounded like the average American family raising small children. She scrambled to budget time and money, manage the resources and the routines that help care for a young family where mom is a veteran and dad is still on active duty.
Home is now Ft. Hood, Texas. Life “on post” provides an instant military family. Grace relies on a close neighbor and friend to care for her children when she does get work outside the home. People on base help. People understand. Each family has their own stories and scars.
Life changed quite a bit for “little Teresa Broadwell” as a classmate called his petite friend when he found out she was serving overseas. Grace worked after her 2002 high school graduation until she enlisted that November.
Within a year, she was deployed to Iraq.
On Oct. 16, 2003, then-Pvt. Broadwell who was 20 at the time, rolled into a coordinated ambush in the city of Karbala. She was with her military police company on patrol to enforce a weapons ban at a time of mounting tensions. Responding to the sudden sound of nearby gunfire and a radio call for help from a trapped unit, her team raced to the rescue in an armored Humvee.
The attack engulfed them.
The diminutive gunner did what her combat training dictated. At 5’4”, she was too short to target her fire using the M-249 machine gun’s eye hole atop the vehicle’s now dangerously exposed turret. Relying instead on tracer rounds to target her shots, she quickly laid down controlled fire with sufficient precision to keep insurgents’ heads down.
Her calm and methodical rapid bursts gave her comrades the chance to get out of the death trap alive and kill several insurgents. She continued to get up and fire despite getting knocked back time and again by explosions landing in front of her Humvee. After actions reports show Grace killed 20 or more insurgents in the firefight.
At least two other female MPs and medic were involved in the deadly battle that left several of the comrades dead, including their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Kim Orlando.
For her actions that day, then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne, pinned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart on her uniform.
It was Pvt. Broadwell’s first combat experience.