Was a female army sergeant who became a hero for her war-time actions the first woman to earn a Silver Star since WWII? Yes, but the story is misleading. Leigh Ann Hester was awarded the Silver Star, but the recirculated story is more than a decade old, and it doesn't note that, since she was honored, another woman was awarded the Silver Star.
The claim originated from from an article (archived here) that was published by The Epoch Times on December 9, 2019, under the title "Female Army Sergeant Repels Ambush, Kills 3, WAS The First Woman to Earn Silver Star Since WWII."
"Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, of Nashville, Tennessee, went from shoe salesperson to national hero, and today, she has the award to prove it.
Hester first enlisted in the United States Army just before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and was assigned to the National Guard's Kentucky-based 617th Military Police Company in Baghdad in 2004. She was not afraid of the potential for combat.
"It was that one job where you can get out there and get dirty and be in an infantry-type environment," she explained of her enlistment, speaking to The Tennesseean. "I guess it was one of the more exciting jobs in the military for women when I enlisted, and it still is now."
Users on social media saw posts like this:
That story true, but without context, readers could be fooled into believing Hester stands alone as the only woman to receive the honor since the end of the Second World War. The website, for example, doesn't state the year - 2005 - that Hester was awarded the Silver Star, making it seem the December 2019 story was new news. The story instead tells the history of Hester's military accomplishments - but without the date as context - and without noting the second woman to earn the high honor.
Hester's team was, in fact, ambushed with gunfire and grenades south of Baghdad on March 20, 2005, and the sergeant quickly jumped into action. A 45-minute battle ensued, and the team's lead supply vehicle caught fire. Hester directed her team away from the gunfire, and they discovered a ditch where the enemy fighters were hiding. She told the team gunner to fire the ditch in a surprise attack. She then exited her vehicle and threw grenades by hand at the ditch.
Determined to repel the ambush, Hester ran into the fight and killed three enemy soldiers using her M4 carbine. While three members of her unit were injured in the ambush, all survived the attack. Her bravery was honored on June 16, 2005, along with seven other members of her unit - the 617th Military Police Company. This did make her the first woman to receive the award since the close of WWII.
But The EpochTimes entirely left out noting that Monica Lin Brown was given the Silver Star on March 21, 2008, by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Brown was awarded the Silver Star at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, by Cheney for her actions on April 25, 2007. With that, Brown became the second woman to be awarded the Silver Star since WWII, an omission that caused The EpochTimes story to be misleading.
NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rank the reliability of websites, describes theepochtimes.com as:
The website of The Epoch Times, a conservative newspaper founded by members of a spiritual group persecuted in China that has promoted misleading claims to advance an undisclosed political agenda.
According to NewsGuard, the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.