This week's decision by the U.S. Department of Defense to open up combat positions to women was certainly a historic day for the U.S. Armed Forces, but American women have actually been seeing combat for some time now. In wars without a defined front line, where anywhere can quickly become a combat zone, the difference between "combat" and "non-combat" roles often breaks down. One hundred fifty-two women have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight lost their lives last year. These are their stories.
ARMY SPC. BRITTANY GORDON
Died: Oct. 13 in Kandahar
A native of St. Petersburg, Florida -- and daughter of the city's assistant police chief -- Gordon was nicknamed "Queen Bee" by her friends and graduated high school in 2006. She had expressed interest in a career in law and spent a year at the University of Florida before signing up for the Army. She worked as an intelligence analyst and spent a year on a base in Seattle before being sent to Afghanistan.
Gordon was killed by a suicide bomber who attacked a U.S. delegation delivering furniture to the remote Maruf district of Kandahar province. A former U.S. military officer and four Afghan intelligence personnel were also killed in the bombing.
Gordon, who turned 24 just days before her death, had been scheduled to return home last December. "If I would describe her, she had no fear. She wanted to make a difference. Because that's what military people do: make a difference in the lives of others," her cousin, the Rev. Evelyn Thompson, told the Tampa Bay Times.
MARINE SGT. CAMELLA STEEDLEY
Died: Oct. 3 in Helmand Province
Steedley first joined the Marines in 2001 and was serving on her first deployment to Afghanistan. Steedley was an air operations clerk serving with the 1st Marine Logistics Group. The Marine Corps has said only that she died "supporting combat operations" in Helmand, and the circumstances of her death are currently under investigation.
Steedley, originally from San Diego, lived in San Clemente with her husband of eight years, also a marine, and their four children. She had received numerous commendations including two Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, three certificates of commendation, and numerous others.
ARMY SGT. DONNA JOHNSON
Died: Oct. 1 in Khost
A member of the North Carolina Army National Guard, Johnson was on her second tour of duty after having deployed to Iraq in 2007. Johnson was killed along with two other members of the guard after a suicide bomber detonated his vest while they were on foot patrol in a market in the eastern city of Khost. She is survived by her wife, Tracy Dice, who also serves in the military.
Johnson, who married Dice in Washington D.C. in 2011, shortly after the repeal of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, is the first known married, lesbian service member killed in action, and some supporters were angered when initial press reports failed to mention Dice. Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Dice is not recognized by the Department of Defense as Johnson's spouse and is not listed as a next of kin -- meaning she was not among those first informed of her wife's death and learned of it via the Internet -- and is not eligible for the grief counseling or honors typically afforded military spouses. It was only thanks to an intervention from Johnson's mother that Dice was allowed to accompany the casket from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Dice is currently fighting a legal battle with the Department of Veterans' Affairs to be granted survivor's benefits as Johnson's widow. The U.S. Supreme Court is due to review the Defense of Marriage Act later this year.
ARMY CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 THALIA S. RAMIREZ
Died: Sept. 5 in Logar Province
Though she listed San Antonio as her hometown when she enlisted, Ramirez grew up mostly in Nairobi, the daughter of a Kenyan mother and a Puerto Rican father. She joined the Army in 2003, shortly after moving to the United States, and initially worked as a water purification specialist before becoming a helicopter pilot in 2008. She was killed along with copilot and fellow Texan Jose Montenegro in a helicopter crash in Logar. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. She is survived by a husband, currently living in North Carolina, and her parents in Kenya.
Ramirez had escaped from a firefight in June and been awarded the Army's Air Medal. She had flown more than 20 missions and 650 hours on her tour of duty, which was scheduled to end in just days. "She selflessly risked everything, on a regular basis, in defense of her brothers and sisters in arms," her commander, Lt. Col. Landy Dunham, told the San Antonio Express-News.