Va. Guard Soldier honored at Veterans Center 15th Annual Awards Gala

Sgt. Monica Beltran stands by a sign recognizing her as a recipient of the Lillian K. Keil Award at the American Veterans Center 15th Annual Awards Gala Oct. 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Francis J. O’Brien, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sgt. Monica Beltran, a Woodbridge, Va., native and Soldier in the Virginia Army National Guard, was recognized for outstanding service with the Lillian K. Keil Award at the American Veterans Center 15th Annual Awards Gala Oct. 27, 2012. She was recognized alongside historical figures from American military history including Greta Freedman, the nurse from the iconic V-J Day Time magazine cover, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a Medal of Honor recipient, the first African-American U.S. Marines, and a Sailor from the Battle of Midway.

The Lillian K. Keil Award was created in honor of Keil, a flight nurse in WW2 and Korea, the most highly decorated woman in U.S. military history.

Beltran is the second female Soldier in the U. S. Army to ever receive the Bronze Star with Valor, according to John Listman, a Virginia National Guard historian. The first recipient, also from the National Guard, was Spc. Ashley Pullen of Kentucky, who has since left service.

“Beltran is the first, and to date only, woman in the Virginia Army National Guard to ever receive this or any other higher award for valor. She is also the first of two to date women to receive the Purple Heart for a combat wound. Beltran, who is still serving in the Virginia Guard, is the second highest decorated female in the Army today and the highest decorated female soldier in the Virginia Army National Guard,” said Listman.

At least two other female Soldiers have been awarded the Bronze Star with Valor since Beltran.

Beltran, then a specialist with the 1710th Transportation Company, was mobilized with the 1173rd Transportation Company to deploy to Iraq in January 2005. She was one of only 25 women in the company providing gun truck security to civilian and military convoys.

On Oct. 26, 2005, Beltran was serving as a .50 caliber machine gun operator, providing security for a military convoy as it came under enemy attack that included roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades, mortar, machine gun and small arms fire. One non-Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the mission was killed in the attack.

Beltran, as turret gunner and rated as a sharpshooter by the Army, laid down suppressive fire with the .50 caliber machine gun until the convoy could clear the “kill zone.”

“We had hundreds of missions in Iraq,” said Beltran. “This wasn’t the only one where we saw combat, but it was the biggest. And that .50 cal? That was my baby.”

According to the report of the award board that reviewed Beltran, “her personal courage was beyond reproach and contributed to saving the lives of 54 Soldiers.”

The highest decorated woman in the Army today, according to records held at the Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee, Va., is Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to earn a Silver Star Medal in direct combat with the enemy from Iraq in 2005.

Previous women honored with the Lillian K. Keil award include: Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, the first U.S. military woman in space and world record holder for space walking; Dr. Frances Carter, former President of the Rosie the Riveter Association; Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot to fly with the Air Force Thunderbirds; and Maj. Kim Campbell, a decorated fighter pilot of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m honored,” said Beltran of being recognized as a key figure in female military history, “but I don’t consider myself a hero. The Soldiers in the convoy need to be recognized. We pulled together as a team. In fact, I’ve been Facebooking with them during the ceremony!

“A lot of the females in my unit look up to me,” Beltran added. “I guess I’m a role model for them. My role model is my mom who taught me to always keep my head up and stay straight.”