MONICA BROWN.

Somebody broke the rules:

Vice President Cheney pinned [Monica] Brown, of Lake Jackson, Tex., with a Silver Star in March for repeatedly risking her life on April 25, 2007, to shield and treat her wounded comrades, displaying bravery and grit. She is the second woman since World War II to receive the nation's third-highest combat medal.

Within a few days of her heroic acts, however, the Army pulled Brown out of the remote camp in Paktika province where she was serving with a cavalry unit -- because, her platoon commander said, Army restrictions on women in combat barred her from such missions.

"We weren't supposed to take her out" on missions "but we had to because there was no other medic," said Lt. Martin Robbins, a platoon leader with Charlie Troop, 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, whose men Brown saved. "By regulations you're not supposed to," he said, but Brown "was one of the guys, mixing it up, clearing rooms, doing everything that anybody else was doing."

And because of that, somebody lived:

Brown and a colleague then grabbed Spec. Stanson Smith, who was in shock and blinded by blood from his lacerated forehead, and dragged him by his body armor into a ditch about 15 yards away. Tellier helped Spray limp over.

No sooner were they in the ditch that insurgents began firing mortars. Brown threw her body over Smith, shielding him as more than a dozen rounds hit nearby. The ammunition inside the burning Humvee then started exploding, including 60mm mortars, 40mm grenade rounds and rifle ammunition. Again, Brown lay over the wounded.

The difficulties with the prohibition on women on the battlefield don't just stem from the manpower crisis, or even from the non-linear battlefield. The deep strike capability of any conventional modern military (such as the Iraqi Army in 1991) has long rendered rear areas, and consequently women, vulnerable to attack. The fact that women aren't allowed to specialize in direct combat arms such as armor or infantry actually makes them more, rather than less, vulnerable on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. As Jason Sigger notes, it's time for gendered combat policies to go.

--Robert Farley