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Kellie J. McCoy

U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor

Overcoming a well-timed ambush, Army captain led her troops in repelling insurgents

On paper, the mission seemed simple. Capt. Kellie McCoy, on her first patrol in Iraq, was driving from the 82nd Airborne Division’s headquarters outside Ramadi to a massive airbase near Fallujah to visit her troops.

“We were on our way back down Highway 10 when we started to see cars flashing their headlights,” McCoy recalled. “I was just getting on the radio when the first IED went off.”

The improvised explosive device set off a chain of bombs that rocked her unarmored convoy of two Humvees and two five-ton trucks. McCoy barely had time to shake off the dust when insurgents opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

McCoy was commander of a headquarters company in the 307th Engineer Battalion, and her 180 paratroopers were spread all over, moving supplies around the battlefield. It was September 2003 and the insurgency was still building; roadside bombs were just appearing on the scene.

After the initial blast, thick smoke covered Highway 10, which runs east-west from the Jordanian border to Baghdad. The shock wave sent equipment flying. McCoy jumped from her Humvee and directed fire as she ran down the line of damaged trucks. She could see insurgents in the reeds firing. She watched one stand up and fire an RPG at her men.

Shouldering her rifle, she killed at least two insurgents as the paratroopers tried to break out of the kill zone.

“The situation kept getting worse and worse,” she said. “That is where training kicks in. You don’t have time to consider everything that is going on. You’re just acting. I really do credit a lot of our training for that and making us prepared to just react in an appropriate way.”

At one point, the insurgents were within 20 feet. McCoy went through several magazines, and the gunner on the last truck, armed with an M249 machine gun, fired about 500 rounds.

“The gun was blazing hot when it was done, and he had marks on his uniform where the enemy had strafed his uniform,” she said.

McCoy soon realized that three of her convoy’s four vehicles were disabled. With no choice, all 12 troopers piled into a four-seat Humvee. Several had minor injuries, including concussions and ruptured eardrums. But despite the heavy fire, no one was killed.

The attack was among the first by insurgents using complex IEDs in that part of Iraq, McCoy said.

And she can’t stress enough the teamwork that was involved to escape the explosions and ambush: “It wasn’t just me. I was just their leader.”

McCoy is now a major and on her third tour of Iraq.

“It’s a six-year-old story,” McCoy said of the bomb attack that led to her decoration. “This war has been going on a long time. There are lots of other soldiers and paratroopers who have performed much more heroically. I think I am just one story.”

Kevin Maurer is a North Carolina-based writer who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to cover military units.

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After her convoy from the 82nd Airborne Division was ambushed in Iraq, Capt. Kellie McCoy implemented a plan that resulted in her troops successfully repelling the insurgents with no U.S. fatalities. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Licea)


Kellie J. McCoy

U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor

Born May 1, 1975, in Akron, Ohio, has lived in Fayetteville, N.C., since 2001.

* Graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June 1996, deployed to Iraq in late August/early September 2003 and has three tours of duty there.

Was a captain and company commander, HHC, 307th Engineer Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. Has since been promoted to major.

Led soldiers under her command to repel insurgents during a complex roadside bomb attack and ambush. All her soldiers survived.

Back in Iraq as executive officer of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division.

"I sought an appointment to West Point because I wanted a challenging and unique college experience. The notion of serving our nation and defending our freedom appealed to me then and still does. . . . There is no greater privilege or responsibility in our society than leading soldiers."

Iraq / Hwy 10 To Ramadi

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