2005 Soldier of the Year
Sgt Jessica Reed
Age 22. Competitive runner, studying psychology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln; serves as unit morale, welfare and recreation NCO.
LINCOLN, Neb. - The traditional mission of the 313th Medical Company, a National Guard ambulance unit from Lincoln, Neb., is to move patients inside bases - from helipads to hospitals, from hospital to hospital.
But the unit's mission in Iraq is far more harrowing. Its 24 ambulances and 75 troops are scattered over seven locations around the country, with a main task of accompanying convoys and providing medical care to those wounded in all-too-frequent attacks.
The key to making the mission work is communicating with the far-flung fleet, a job that falls to a 22-year-old college senior from tiny Lawrence, Neb. - Sgt. Jessica Reed.
When Reed arrived, many, but not all, of the ambulances were equipped with a computer and satellite Movement Tracking System (MTS) technology that allows a base station to see, in near real time, the location of all the ambulances. It allows the ambulance crews to see their exact location on a video display map. And everyone can communicate via text message, an important consideration in an environment when voice communications can be shaky.
But no one in the 313th, Reed included, had ever seen the system. As communications noncommissioned officer, Reed had to learn how to install, operate and maintain it. "It would be a lot more scary out there with out it," Reed said.
And, because it's her job to keep the whole thing running, her biggest nightmare, she said, is that "at the most critical time, they will need the communications and it won't be working."
During her Iraq tour, Reed became such an expert on the system that other medical companies now ask her to train their troops, which she does on a regular basis - which has helped make her the Army Times Soldier of the Year.
But that's not all Reed does.
Ignoring the tradition of never volunteering, Reed's hand seems to shoot up constantly. She leads the Field Sanitation Team, is her unit's retention NCO and Equal Opportunity representative, and she chairs the enlisted advisory council. She also trained to become an alternate noncommissioned officer in charge for the company's operations center.
And as morale, welfare and recreation NCO, Reed organizes monthly entertainment - most recently, a karaoke night. She also plays on the unit softball team, though she admits her hit ting is weak. She also trained to become a com bat lifesaver and, in that role, has traveled on a half-dozen convoys.
"She was instrumental in maintaining communications with a quick-reaction force and her higher headquarters when one of the convoys she was on was attacked by an insurgent's improvised explosive device on Jan. 16," said Reed's company commander, Capt. Craig Strong, 37, of Silver Creek, Neb.
With all of that, Reed still finds time to keep in top shape. A competitive runner in high school who traveled to Great Britain and Australia for meets, she is the undefeated woman's champion in the monthly runs that draw about 90 men and 30 women. In fact, only a handful of men finish ahead of the 5-foot-6, 126-pound Reed.
Reed joined the National Guard at 17. "I had to have my mom sign up on it," she said. "I thought it would be a good challenge. I wanted to serve my country."
She began studying psychology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and was 15 credit hours away from a degree when her unit was activated last October.
She had planned to work with underprivileged kids when she finished school, but now says, "I'm not sure what I want to do yet."
For now, she shares an 8-foot-by-20-foot air-conditioned trailer with another soldier.
"It would be a very small apartment back home," she said, surveying the cramped room with its plywood bookshelves and homemade curtains.
While the base is considered a safe rear area, one recent Sunday morning, a 120mm rocket landed less than 100 yards from her trailer. Nonetheless, Reed doesn't complain. "I just go with the flow," she said.