VNG’s first female Bronze Star recipient shares story at women’s summit

Sgt. Monica Beltran shares her combat experience story with the audience at the Women’s Achieve Summit Oct. 15, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s most highly decorated female Soldier shared her combat experiences on stage at the Women’s Achieve Summit Oct. 15, 2019, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center in Richmond, Virginia. 

Sgt. Monica Beltran, the first VNG female to receive the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, spoke as part of a four-woman panel about breaking barriers. The discussion was led by celebrity host Queen Latifah. 

Beltran, who is assigned to the 1173rd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, spoke about the day her unit came under attack in Iraq in 2005, and her actions to help save her fellow Soldiers. 

“I was fairly young when I joined. I was in Iraq when I was 19,” said Beltran. “You hear stories, you see things online, you hear from other units coming back, and you hope you don’t experience that. Unfortunately we did, but we pulled through.”

On Oct. 26, 2005, Beltran was serving as a .50 caliber machine gun operator on a combat logistics patrol and was responsible for providing security for equipment and 55 Soldiers and contractors being transported to Forward Operating Base Suse. She was on the convoy’s right flank during an enemy attack and returned maximum suppressive fire while taking heavy fire from multiple rounds of small arms, heavy-caliber machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. 

Despite suffering a wound to her left hand, Beltran continued returning fire to ensure that the rear element of the convoy could pass safely through the mile-long kill zone. For her heroic service in the line of duty under hostile fire and adverse conditions, Beltran was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor on December 30, 2005, the first woman in the Virginia National Guard to receive the honor.

Beltran said it’s important for her to share her story with the next generation of Soldiers. 

“I feel like it’s important for me to speak out for a lot of our young Soldiers, so they can hear what women can do in the military,” said Beltran. “That’s one of the things I want to tell my junior enlisted – if I can do it, anyone can do it. Don’t let anyone pull you down. It doesn’t even matter if you’re female or male. That’s why it’s important for me to be out here.”

Beltran’s message was well received by the full auditorium, which gave her a lengthy ovation. The event’s host also seemed inspired by Beltran’s story. 

“All the more reason we need to support our men and women in uniform,” said Latifah. 

The Women’s Achieve Summit had about 1,400 attendees, including Virginia Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Toni M. Lord, who was recently selected to become the next VNG air component commander. The summit was organized by Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, and was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the recruitment of English women in the Virginia Colony, to celebrate 400 years of achievements and successes.

Beltran’s fellow panelists included Chief Anne Richardson, chief of the Rappahannock Tribe of the Virginia Indians; Rynthia Rost,  vice president of public affairs for Geico; and Connie Nyholm, chief executive officer for Virginia International Raceway. 

Other speakers at the event included U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who co-hosted the summit,  and Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam.