This week’s America250 salute is Army Veteran Linda Bray.
While attending college at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, Linda Bray learned that a friend was going into the military via the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Intrigued, Bray joined the program as well. She later said in an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project that she went into the military “because I wanted to continue to better myself, and I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut or a daily routine.”
Bray graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and commissioned as a second lieutenant a year later. She then attended the Military Police Officer Basic Course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, because of her degree in criminal justice.
Following training, Bray’s first assignment was with the 556th Military Police Company in Siegelsbach, West Germany from November 1983 to November 1987. Bray recalled that, as one of the first female military police to go to Germany, her company did not easily accept her.
“Back then I think it was just so new to people, to men, that they were just at that point not knowing what to do. And a lot of people in that position, if they’re in a position of leadership and they’re put in a position of not knowing what to do, those two things don’t go hand-in-hand. So it was a learning process for everybody in the military, women and men.”
After returning to the U.S., Bray took on additional MP training at Fort McClellan in Alabama. She then worked as both a training and personnel officer at the Officer Candidate School (OCS). She served both roles at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1988, she promoted to captain and became commanding officer of the 988th Military Police Company at Fort Benning.
In December 1989, Bray’s company deployed to Panama for Operation Just Cause. The overall goal was to restore the democratically elected government of former President Guillermo Endara and arrest dictator Manuel Noriega on drug trafficking charges. During the operation on Dec. 20, Bray became the first woman in U.S. military history to lead troops into combat.
“What the plan was, was we had the kennels [for guard dogs],” Bray explained, “and from the kennels you could actually go in, crash the gate [of Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) headquarters], and attack it right into the front door, straight on.” Her company encountered and fought with troops from the PDF at the guard dog kennel. After a three-hour battle, Bray’s company successfully took the kennel and overrode the PDF’s grip on the area.
Following her return from Panama, Bray received accolades from both her fellow soldiers and high officials.
“[The female soldiers] performed very well,” said one of the male platoon sergeants in Bray’s company in a 1990 Washington Post article. “Some of the females performed better than the men. I am proud of them.”
White House spokesman Martin Fitzwater spoke highly of Bray’s actions.
“It was an important military operation,” he said in a 1990 Daily Press article. “A woman led it and she did an outstanding job and the fact is that role has been anticipated from the first day she was given that assignment.”
However, despite Bray’s achievements, the military refused to change its laws to allow female personnel to further serve in combat. Bray medically discharged from the Army in April 1991 as a captain. She received an Army Commendation Medal with Valor for her service.
After leaving the Army, Bray worked as a recruiter for the Winston Personnel Group in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that most combat role jobs would now be open to female soldiers and Marines. Bray stated her excitement for the change in a January 2019 article.
“I’m so thrilled, excited. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that our nation’s military is taking steps to help women break the glass ceiling,” she said. “It’s nothing new now in the military for a woman to be right beside a man in operations.”
Thank you for your service!
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Annabelle Colton, Brooke Wolfenbarger
Researcher: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley