The List

Combat Roles

Women have been fighting and dying in America’s wars for years. Here are eight who were killed in action last year.

See images of the women who've been moving closer and closer to the front lines for years.

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
Age:24

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
Age: 31

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
Age: 29

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
Age: 28

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.

 

ARMY STAFF SGT. JESSICA M. WING
Died: Aug. 27 in Kuwait City, Kuwait
Age: 42

A member of the Maine National Guard for eight years, Wing had previously served on active duty in the Army for 11 years, including deployments to Haiti and Bosnia. This was her third deployment to the Middle East as a member of the guard. The cause of her death, which was not related to combat, is currently under investigation.

Wing was a Black Hawk crew chief for the Bangor-based 126th Aviation Medevac unit, known as the "Black Bears," which works to airlift soldiers out of combat. In addition to serving in the guard, Wing had a second job fixing and maintaining helicopters at the Army Aviation Support Facility. With two decades of experience in repairing military helicopters, colleagues described her as a "subject matter expert" and the unit's go-to person for maintenance questions.

Shortly before her fourth deployment in 2005, she told the Bangor Daily News, "It doesn't matter how many times you've been deployed, once or 100 times, it's all the same. You don't know what you're getting into."

 

ARMY PFC. PATRICIA L. HORNE
Died: Aug. 24 in Bagram
Age: 20

Horne had hoped to become a doctor after getting out of the Army and just a few weeks before her death, had called her mother to say she was planning to reenlist because "the Army would pay for her schooling." In the Army, Horne had worked as a human resource specialist, working to maintain soldiers' records for the elite 101st Airborne Division. The cause of her death has not been released.

In her hometown of Greenwood, Miss., Horne was remembered as ambitious and a perfectionist. "Everything she wanted to do, she wanted to do it perfect," her high school principal told the AP.

 

ARMY SPC. KRYSTAL FITTS
Died: July 17 in Kandahar
Age: 26

Fitts, of Houston, Texas, first joined the Army in 2009 as a chemical operations specialist. In Afghanistan, she volunteered to serve on a Female Engagement Team supporting the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. The FETs are special units of female troops assigned to engage with local women who might be wary of male soldiers. Fitts studied Pashto in order to better communicate with locals.

"They have been the literal face of America to a host of Afghan women and children," Lt. Col. Timothy Gilhool, one her commanding officers, said. "Krystal was unafraid. Her presence made the difference." She had received numerous commendations, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. She was killed by indirect fire when her base came under attack.

On the day of her death, Fitts posted a photo of a soldier's helmet with a bullet hole through it on her Facebook page, with the caption, "Remember so many have given of their lives that we have the privilege and the duty to make the most of ours. Let us do our best to live worthy of this freedom they fought and gave their all for us to enjoy."

 

ARMY SPC. ERICA P. ALECKSEN
Died: July 8 in Maidan Shahr
Age: 21

Alecksen was killed along with five other members of her military police company when the truck they were riding in ran over an IED in a restive city near Kabul -- one of the deadliest days in months for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A native of the small town of Eatonton, Ga., Alecksen joined the Army in 2010 and was soon transferred to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, taking along the husband she had met back home. She then shipped out for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Alecksen had decided to become a military police officer after asking a retired general for advice after services at her church. He told her that MPs were assigned protect soldiers and their families. Family members credited long shifts spent working in her father's garage for the toughness and stoicism that served her well in the Army.

"If there was something she didn't like, you never heard it from her," her grandfather told the Army Times. "If there was something she did like, she might say something but not dwell on it."

Flickr/The U.S. Army

The List

101 Things People Want Obama to Do in Term 2

From the merely ambitious to the sublimely ridiculous, here's an exhaustive list of all the things people want Obama to do in his second term.

President Barack Obama is one of only 17 U.S. presidents elected to a second term. And ever since he defeated Mitt Romney to earn himself another four years in office, everyone from Paul Volcker to the Taliban has weighed in on what he should do now. In an effort to make life easier for the soon-to-be re-inaugurated president, Foreign Policy has gathered much of this advice into one concise list.

Obama should...

1. Think legacy

2. Go for greatness this time -- and start with the inaugural address

3. Say this during the inauguration today -- and these things

4. Resolve America's political and economic problems

5. Help Africa do the same

6. Foster entrepreneurship and innovation

7. Overturn Citizens United

8. Broker lasting peace in the Middle East

9. Stay out of Israel-Palestine peace efforts, for now

10. Meddle in Israel's election

11. Worry about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania rather than Bethlehem, Palestine

12. Intervene in Syria

13. Stay away from Syria

14. Assassinate Bashar al-Assad

15. Enact a Marshall Plan for 2013

16. Stop being so European

17. Push gun control without Congress

18. Get tough on criminals instead

19. Admit his true feelings on the Second Amendment

20. Amend the Constitution

21. Listen to the NRA

22. Tackle gun control internationally, not just domestically

23. Stay pivoted toward Asia

24. Rethink the pivot

25. Pray that China overtakes the United States

26. Not freak out about China

27. Reform the Foreign Assistance Act

28. Talk to the Taliban

29. Admit he's lost in Afghanistan. And leave. Thanks! - The Taliban

30. Stop being so reasonable

31. Stop governing like a visitor from a morally superior civilization

32. Get his authority back

33. Answer this: Are you a moralist or a realist?

34. Listen to Brookings

35. Listen to Chuck Hagel

36. Listen to Hugo Chávez

37. Forget Chavismo

38. End the Cuba embargo

39. Not end the Cuba embargo

40. Offer Iran a generous deal

41. Not expect Iran to come to the negotiating table

42. Write the rule book for drones

43. Stop using drones

44. Use drones. They're the best tool we have.

45. Keep the drones, but develop alternative solutions

46. Abandon his cybersecurity executive order

47. Reduce the nuclear arsenal with New START II

48. Stop worrying and learn to love the bomb

49. Come to the table with congressional Republicans

50. Bypass congressional Republicans

51. "Work like a third world dictator and put [the opposition] in jail"

52. "Help save [the GOP] from [its own] crazy people"

53. Break the House Republicans

54. Play more golf with John Boehner

55. Throw dinners à la Thomas Jefferson

56. Be more like LBJ

57. Be more like Abraham Lincoln

58. Be more like Bill Clinton

59. Be less like Bill Clinton

60. Be more like Ronald Reagan

61. Continue being just like Reagan

62. Be more like RGIII

63. Be more like Vladimir Putin

64. Rebuild infrastructure

65. Cut entitlements -- that's what the American people want

66. Spare entitlements --  that's what the American people want

67. Eat Ethiopian food

68. Stop eating ice cream with a spoon

69. Freeze drilling in the Arctic

70. Tackle oil like Napoleon tackled salt

71. Approve the Keystone Pipeline this time

72. Discover his inner hedgehog

73. Embrace his inner fox

74. Bring climate change to the forefront

75. Confront climate change. Here are four ways to start. Here are some more ways -- and here are some more.

76. Get with the Latin Americans and legalize pot

77. Close Gitmo

78. Deliver on America's promise as the world's foremost democracy and remove ridiculous obstacles to voting

79. Bankrupt North Korea

80. Reinstate the draft -- everyone should have "skin in the game"

81. Withdraw from Okinawa

82. Visit Africa

83. Not visit Russia

84. Look to New Mexico

85. Not accept parenting advice from the prime minister of Turkey

86. Compromise in his marriage

87. Not listen to his progressive daughters when it comes to policy

88. Not put women in combat

89. Make immigration reform a top priority

90. Do these six things to make immigration reform a reality

91. Back France in the fight against al Qaeda in Africa

92. Lead from behind in Mali

93. Pay income taxes in the foreign countries he visits

94. Learn to skip the last question at a press conference

95. Appoint at least two Latinos to his cabinet

96. Appoint a female FCC chair

97. Protect Main Street from Wall Street

98. Please Wall Street

99. Do more for D.C. than change his license plate

100. Swear in on Das Kapital rather than the Bible

101. Avoid a second-term scandal

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images