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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Linda L. Bray, 2008

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Object ID: wv0432.5.001

Description: Oral history primarily documents Linda Bray’s service in the U.S. Army, particularly as the first woman to lead troops into combat.

Summary: Bray briefly discusses her childhood. She goes on to talk about her reasons for joining the military and her family’s response. She recalls receiving her commission and arriving at her first assignment in Germany, and she discusses meeting her husband at length.

She talks about the role of women in the military in the eighties and the difficulty she faced, especially as a female MP (military police). Topics on this subject include living at a base that was previously almost all male, trouble finding boots her size, men and women learning to work together, the military’s push for equality, and being shocked at the inequality in civilian life after leaving the service. She talks at length about working as a training officer, including the difficulty in getting recent ROTC graduates and prior service men to work together, how she got a particularly difficult platoon to bond, and swearing in officers for the first time. She talks about a stress fracture in her hip during a road march and her long recovery. She then discusses fighting for command of the 988th MP Company, when a colonel didn’t want her to take the position because she was a woman.

She goes on to discuss the company’s deployment to Panama during the Panama Invasion. Topics include not being able to tell her husband, going on alert for the first time, and acting on operation orders. Discussion of the assault on the dog kennels includes charging the gate, coming under fire, and finding a cache of weapons. Bray talks about the state of downtown Panama during the invasion, taking over and clearing the police station; operating a POW camp, and providing protection for visiting dignitaries. She recalls when the news came out that she was the first female to lead troops into combat. She discusses how the media misconstrued events, her meeting with a four-star general to discuss the incident, news interviews on herself and women in the military, the media contacting her parents, husband, and high school while she was in Panama, a mail bomb that was sent to her MP station at Fort Benning, and the immense pressure she was under after the storming of the kennels. Other topics from Panama include receiving a letter of thanks from a Panamanian girl, attending a dance with Senator Al D’Amato, meeting a former Panamanian ambassador, and problems with staffing.

Bray talks about the celebration that was held upon her company’s return to the US, as well as the CID investigation into the storming of the dog kennels. She discusses her Officer Evaluation Report, including a commander’s decision to give her a low rank and her decision not to appeal it. She gives her and her husband’s reasons for leaving the military, and expresses regret for the decision. She recalls her send off party, and discusses keeping in touch with members of her company. She talks about the current role of women in the military and the need for more gains, and she expresses remorse that she was unable to achieve her service goals because of the fallout from her role in Panama.

Creator: Linda L. Bray

Biographical Info: Linda Bray of Butner, North Carolina, served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1991, and during the Panama Invasion, she was the first female to lead troops into combat.

Collection: Linda L. Bray Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

Linda why don’t you start out and just tell me about where you grew up and where you were born?

Linda Bray:

I was born in Sanford, North Carolina, and raised primarily in the North Durham area. I’m from a small town. It’s Butner, North Carolina, and it used to be a camp, a military camp, back in World War II.

TS:

What was it like? So was it like a small, small town, rural?

LB:

Small, small. Very small, very rural. Everybody knew everybody. If you were sick, then everybody in town knew you were sick. And so just through growing up through that I knew right off the bat, probably when I was about in the sixth grade, [phone rings] that—

TS:

I’ll interrupt you so we can do this.

LB:

Okay.

[Recording paused]

TS:

Okay. So you were talking about growing up

LB:

Yeah. So when I was probably in the sixth grade I knew at that time I wanted to go to college. I wanted to continue to get out and learn and get out of the small town, so to say. And so I went to the farthest place I could go, which was Western Carolina [University], in the mountains of North Carolina, in a little town called Cullowhee.

TS:

Cullowhee?

LB:

Cullowhee, North Carolina. It’s C-u-l-l-o-w-h-e-e.

TS:

That’s okay. You don’t have to worry about spelling. We can—

LB:

Okay.

TS:

We’ll get all that down. So before we get to where you went to college, I want to talk about growing up just a little bit more now. Did you—in school was there a particular like teacher or subject or something like that that you liked growing up? Do you remember? Did you like school?

LB:

I liked school. I liked history. I liked mathematics. I was a pretty big into the sports. I played basketball for the school. And I had a couple of teachers—one was Ms. Wooten, and the other one was Ms. Whitfield—that I kind of liked the most. And I worked in the school office, and I worked in the library, so I was on multiple clubs and just tried to stay busy doing stuff. Prior to that, I was square dancing professionally for about—for seven years.

TS:

Really?

LB:

I learned how to call square dancing, but of course when I graduated high school, that’s all over with now.

TS:

Is that right? It’s pretty popular in a lot of places.

LB:

One of these days I’d like to go back to square dancing. I think it’d be fun.

TS:

Now where did you go to school? Where did you go to school at?

LB:

My high school was at South Granville High School in Creedmoor, North Carolina. And prior to that I was at Holly Elementary, because our school had burnt down that was on Main Street in Creedmoor. So then we had to all combine over at Holly Elementary.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

So pretty much from there I was there to the eighth grade till I went to high school.

TS:

Okay. So what did your folks do when you were growing up?

LB:

[chuckles] My dad was a policeman and a fireman. In a small town like that, what they had to do is they worked twenty-four-hour shifts. Half of the day, half of the twelve hours, they would be a fireman, and the other half they would be a policeman. And so my—we lived in state-subsidized housing because my father was in the police. Then as we—as time went on and town got a little bit bigger, police station got a little bit bigger, more things were happening, then my parents moved out of state-subsidized housing and bought their own house.

At some point in time, probably when I was, I’m going to guess, twelve or thirteen, my dad got caught up in a shootout without a gun. And he had been pinned down for over twenty-four hours at this house, and when he came home I’ll just never forget talking to him and everything. And shortly after that my dad—he had eighteen years in with the police and fire total, but he got out of that and he went to work for the state as a pest control supervisor.

TS:

So it really affected him.

LB:

Yeah. And that—just from the admiration I had for my dad, I wanted to go into the criminal justice field. And at the time Western Carolina was the best school for criminology at that time. And actually right now they’re still very good for that field of study. So I went that route. My dad told me, he said, "I’ll pay for your college if you’ll go be a veterinarian." And I said that I couldn’t because it would just kill me to have to put an animal to sleep. So since I didn’t go to veterinarian school and I chose criminology, my parents helped me the first couple of years of school, but then primarily I worked and paid for school. And I had some loans; I got some grants and some loans. But I would work about sixty hours a week and take a first—a full course load so that I could graduate within the four years.

Well, after I’d been at school for about—at college for about two years, I had some friends and they were getting ready to graduate. They’re older. And I asked them, I said, "What are you going to do when you graduate?" And one guy told me, he said that he was going back home to help his mom and dad sell pots and pans in their business. And I had another guy tell me that he was going to be a McDonald’s manager. And so one of my friends that was at a different college, I had talked to them and I said, "What are you going to do?" And they were like, "Well, I’m going to go home and open up a convenience store." And I just sat there and I had a personal meeting with myself and I just said, "You know what, there’s no way—there’s no way after I’ve worked this hard that I am just going to go home and just do something small." So I started talking to another friend of mine and I said, "What are you going to do?"

And he said, "I’m going in the military. I’m going to be a second lieutenant."

I said, "What?"

And so he started telling me all the process about the ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] program and how the ROTC program works.

And so it was in 1981—’81? Yes, 1981. It was in the summer and so I went and met the recruiter at the ROTC department at Western Carolina. And I sat down and I talked to him, and I told him what I wanted to do. And they told me if one, I would go to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, that that would fulfill two years of ROTC. Then I come back my—in ’82. That’ll be one year going towards ROTC. But I had to sign an affidavit saying that I would come back to Western Carolina after I graduated in ’82. But I would come back for the year of ’83 to finish my four-year ROTC commitment. And then I would get a commission in the military. And they asked me, they said, "What field—what do you want to be in?"

I said, "Well, I’m in criminal justice right now."

So they were like, "Oh! We’ll put you in the MPs." So—

TS:

And tell everybody what MP stands for.

LB:

Oh, military police.

TS:

There you go.

LB:

So I was like really happy with that. I called up my mom and my dad and I told them and told them how happy I was that I’d finally  had this sit-down with myself and decided which route my career was going to go. And so I did graduate in ’82 with a criminal justice degree, and then I came back in ’83 and I worked and I finished out my military science degree. And I worked on a political science major at that time, because I was also interested in politics.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

Don’t know why, but I guess that’s just the way things go. But I got my commission and my first duty station—

TS:

Well, before you get there, can I—let me ask you what did your parents think about your decision?

LB:

My mother thought it was just absolutely wonderful. My dad was not too sure of it. But when I went to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the transforming of a almost junior in college young kid into a actual responsible adult—when my parents picked me up at graduation, you know they could just see this change come over me. So after that then my dad was very happy and he says, "Well you—evidently you really know what you want to do."

And I said, "Yes, I really do." But—

TS:

Did you have any siblings at all?

LB:

Oh yeah. I have an older sister and younger brother, neither of them left the—my little town that I lived in. They’re still there with my mother. She’s still there too.

TS:

Did they—but did your older sister have any feelings about you going into the military?

LB:

No. My sister was working for the State of North Carolina at that time. I mean, back then that was the big thing, was to get into the state system because then you could work towards a retirement and things like that. Well, my thought was I would be retiring from the military, and when I figured up the days and the years I just thought, "Oh, wow. You know, I’ll be this age and I can be retired and go around the United States doing whatever I want to do." So I had a goal—I had an ultimate goal at the end of when I—what I wanted to do.

TS:

What would you say that the reasons that you decided to go into the military?

LB:

Because I wanted to continue to better myself, and I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut or a daily routine. Or I really didn’t want to go work for the state, but I needed something that I could go and do that could possibly help me get to a retirement, you know.

TS:

Did you know anybody that was in the military, in the army at that time?

LB:

Nope. None. Nope. Just this one friend at school who said it and I was like, "Huh."

TS:

Had your father been in the military?

LB:

Nope.

TS:

No? So no uncles or anything like that?

LB:

I think I had an uncle at one time.

TS:

Maybe, but didn’t really talk about it?

LB:

Well, yeah. See I really didn’t know him because he died very early. He died very early. And I just remember my momma having a picture of him in his uniform and that’s it.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

So as I continue to tell you about this, you’re going to get real surprised.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

So I go in and it comes out that mom and dad’s best friend, the Marshburns, he was a Marine. He was in the Marine Corps. He gave me his duffel bag and he gave me a knife, a Swiss Army type knife. And he came up for my commission. Matter of fact I’ve got pictures of him. He came up for my commission, so my dad pinned one rank on, and Jamie Marshburn pinned the other rank on. And then he gave me the Swiss Army knife with a note and a map, and it has North Carolina. It’s just the shape of North Carolina, and it had a little red star where Butner is. And it said, "There’s nothing worse in the military than a second lieutenant with a map and a gun." [chuckles] He said, "But I want you to always know how to come home." So he would draw—he drew a little arrow to the star in North Carolina.

TS:

How cute.

LB:

Later on he did pass away, and so that was a very memorable for me.

TS:

Yeah.

LB:

So then when I graduated college—or when I got my commission, I left. I had about—

TS:

Before you tell me about that, tell me about getting your commission. How did that feel? Did you have any—emotionally, how—what were you feeling at that time when you got your commission?

LB:

Oh, very patriotic, very proud of myself. You know, when you get your commission or something like that, you can give away silver dollars and it was like—I was just like, "Yeah! I’ve done something. I’m going to do something in my life." You know? It’s just so rewarding to you personally that you just go, "Whew! I’m ready! I can get out there and I can make something and I can do." You know? And it was something I—I got to stay in the criminal justice field, so I was just so happy and so thrilled. I don’t ever think the smile ever went away from my face, you know.

And I just tell everybody today, I said, "Back then the slogan was ‘Be all you can be’ and it said ‘Join the army for excitement—for excitement, adventure, and a challenge.’" And when I talk to people about my experience I tell them, "I got every single thing in the world that I asked for. I got the excitement, I got the challenge, and I got the adventure." So even though I did not get to retire out of the military, I still got everything I wanted.

TS:

That’s terrific. Well so—okay, so you got your commission and what was your first job assignment? Where were—

LB:

My first duty assignment was in Germany, and I was happy about that because now I’m getting ready to explore and I get to get out of the country and see another country.

TS:

So was this like ’83-ish?

LB:

This was ’83.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And I will never forget it because I had to go to Officer Basic Course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and my duty assignment in Germany was for a special weapons depot.

TS:

Special weapons depot?

LB:

Yeah. So I had a couple of classes that I had to take before I could go to my first duty assignment, so I didn’t arrive in Germany until November 17, 1983.

TS:

Near the end of the year then.

LB:

Correct. Over in Germany, when you first get there, you have somebody that’s kind of like a mentor and what they do is they help you get started. They help you get signed in to your unit. They help you get all your personal records correct and this, that, and the other. And so my sponsor was Jim Brown, and he was a first lieutenant. And it was so funny because he and his wife and I just kind of, you know, just took up as friends really fast. Because the first weekend of December, which is Army/Navy weekend, Jim asked me, he said, "I’ve got a friend that likes to drink beer." He said, "Would you like to come to the game?"

And I was like, "Sure! I like to drink beer too."

So the first weekend in December of 1983, was Army/Navy weekend, I was introduced to this guy. His name was Randy Bray. And I was like, "Oh gosh! No! All this guy cares about is football!" I’m like, "Oh, no. I’m not interested in you at all, because all you want is football." So all the ladies were at the table playing Uno, and all the guys were huddled around a little, I don’t know—

TS:

Thirteen-inch?

LB:

—probably thirteen-inch TV, black and white, watching the Army/Navy game.

Well, time went on and it’s starting to get close to—closer to Christmas. So it was kind of like the next weekend, something like that, Jim asked me, he said, "Hey, Randy’s coming up for the weekend." He said, "Do you guys want to go shopping down at Stuttgart [Army Airfield], to the big PX [Post Exchange]." I was like, "Sure, I need to get Christmas stuff because I haven’t—I’ve been so busy trying to get checked in and get oriented and, you know, all this." I said "I could go and do my Christmas shopping, and I could just knock it out in one day and be done with it," because I hate to shop. It’s just like I put it to the very last minute. I hate to shop.

So we went down there and we went in, and Randy was following me, and I had a buggy and I put it on my stomach, like this, the rail of the buggy. I put it on my stomach and I went walking down aisles, and I was like, "That’s good for them. This is good for them. That’s mom. That there’s dad’s. There I got Rhonda’s."

TS:

I have to interrupt because what Linda’s doing is she’s describing how she’s pushing the cart with her body but her arms are grabbing things off the shelves. [laughter]

LB:

Yeah. And my husband—or my friend at the time.

TS:

Your friend Randy.

LB:

My friend Randy was behind me and when we got out and we got to the truck to unload—because he had a little Toyota truck, and Jim and Cindy had their stuff in their car. So we were riding together. He was—we were driving back. I had found a house to rent in a little small village there.

TS:

Do you remember where that was at?

LB:

Siegelsbach, Germany.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And so Randy was driving me back to my house and it had started to snow. Well, Jim had my Christmas tree, but I had all the presents with me. And we got back, we unloaded the truck, and Randy looks at me and he goes, "Man, I never seen anybody shop like that!" He said, "Oh, I really like you, right off the bat." He said, "I hate to shop, and you are just knocking it out."

And I was like, "Yeah, I hate to shop too, and that’s the way I do it."

He goes, "Well, I think we’re going to get along."

I said, "Fine."

So then we’re sitting there with the presents and watching the snow fall and everything and just watching TV, not thinking about anything in the world, and all of a sudden there’s a knock on my door, and it’s Jim Brown. He had drug that Christmas tree—because I lived on the top of a hill—but he had drug that Christmas tree from the bottom of the hill all the way up the hill, slip-sliding and falling down, and he comes knocking on the door. And he goes, "Here’s your Christmas tree." And so we get that set up and he looks at Randy and he says, "Randy, do you need to go back with me?" And Randy’s like, "No, I think I’m fine." And that was it. I flew into Germany November 1 of ’83, and the reason why I know that is that’s Randy’s birthday.

TS:

Oh, okay.

LB:

And we met Army/Navy weekend, and we were married Army/Navy weekend two years later—

TS:

How about that?

LB:

—after we met. But I fulfilled the full three years over there. He had to stay four years. And for us to transfer back to the United States and stay at the same post, the military wanted us married. And in Germany you—Germans do not recognize a church wedding. So we had to go get married at the Justice of the Peace on December 6, and then we had to fulfill the church part, so we were married January 4 in the church.

And we came back to the states in 1987. I’ll never forget, because we landed at—I think it was [John F.] Kennedy [International] Airport, and his aunt was coming to pick us up. Well, when I left to go to Germany it was ten cents to make a phone call. Well, when I came back from Germany, I’m looking at a pay phone going, "What in the world?" It was like—I was like "You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s a quarter to make a phone call now?"

TS:

Well, they still had phone booths. [laughs]

LB:

Yeah! Luckily there were still phone booths back then. But so anyway I had to go find change, and all we had on us was German money. So we had to find the place in the airport that we could take our German money and get it exchanged into U.S. money. Then we had to get quarters, so it seemed like it took us like two or three hours to accomplish this. But finally we got his aunt, and she came and picked us up. Then we waited, because my car was due in port at Newark, New Jersey, within a couple of days. So we just spent time with his aunt, and then she let us borrow the car to go get my car from New Jersey. And when we did that, we’re on our way back, both Randy and I are in New York getting beeped at, honked at, yelled at. We were even getting hit by other cars or taxi drivers.

And we were trying to go out and see the Statue of Liberty, so we finally found a parking place. And I think it cost us like—I don’t know, it seemed outrageous. I think it was five dollars to park, you know. So we get on the ferry, and we’re going over to the Statue of Liberty. Well, prior to this, my husband had told me, he’s like, "Oh, look that’s the Eiffel—that’s the Empire State Building!"

I was like, "That’s not the tallest building in New York. I thought the Empire State Building was the tallest building in New York."

He said "Oh, no, no, no." He said, "Trust me, that’s the Empire State Building."

I was like, "Okay."

So then he goes, "You see those two buildings right there?"

I said, "Yeah."

He said, "Those two buildings are world famous for being known—built exactly alike."

And I said, "Well, it looks like one has one more floor than the other one," I said, "so they’re not exactly alike."

So we’re on the ferry going over to the Statue of Liberty and this lady’s sitting beside me, and she goes, "Oh, look at the New York skyline. Isn’t that beautiful? And look, you can see the World Trade Center."

And I was like, I looked at my husband, I said, "The World Trade Center?"

She goes, "Yeah."

So I looked at him and I said, "You have been feeding me a bunch of bull for a long time." I said, "You need to quit."

Well, needless to say we finished up our time there, and our attempt was to drive down the East Coast because we both knew that our duty assignments were going to be eventually at Fort Benning, Georgia. So we just start driving down the coast, and we stop in [Washington] D.C. to see his aunt. And he starts telling me something about the "Potomatic" River and that this was a real famous river and Napoleon Bonaparte had cruised in a ship there. He was just—he was really feeding me some stuff, and so when I got there and I told his aunt—I said, "Aunt Thelma," I said, "we got to go across the Potomatic River!"

And she looked at me and she said, "Huh?"

I said—I looked at Randy and I said, "Randy told me it was the Potomatic River, and he was trying to tell me all this history about it." And I said, "I was just so excited to be going over it."

She looks at me and she says, "Honey, I’m real sorry, but it’s called the Potomac."

I said, "Oh no!"

So from then on I did not listen to a thing my husband had to say. I just said, "You’re feeding me a line of bull." Because he knew I’d never been to New York. So—

TS:

Well, can I take you back to Germany for a minute?

LB:

Sure.

TS:

So when you’re—what is it your husband—what was his—?

LB:

Infantry.

TS:

Okay, so he was infantry.

LB:

He was infantry, and then I was military police.

TS:

And where were you stationed in Germany?

LB:

I was stationed in Siegelsbach.

TS:

Okay. Oh, you did tell me that, it seems like. Where’s that by, Siegelsbach?

LB:

Siegelsbach is between Heilbronn and Heidelberg. It’s a really, really small depot. And when I started out as a second lieutenant, I was of course a platoon leader, and my sponsor had left. They were through being in Germany. And then I got promoted to a first lieutenant, and when I got promoted to a first lieutenant a year later, they turned around and made me operations manager of the whole depot. And then what the depot was about was we were called "tower rats." And there’s even a movie made of that. And so what the MPs did on the Special Weapons Depot is of course we guarded the special weapons that it contained in bunkers.

TS:

Now in this time you’re over there, this is the end of ’83, beginning of ’84?

LB:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay, so the Cold War is still going on. Was there any—and the Beirut bombing, I forget which year that was. Was that ’84? [October 23, 1983]

LB:

I know we had—

TS:

Were you there when that happened?

LB:

Yes. And I know when the bombing of the airport, the big airport—air force base happened, I had just gone and picked up my parents who flew in to see us. So it was—I think it was the summer of ’84, somewhere around there when they—

 

TS:

That sounds about right. So what—do you remember as a military policeman—I guess you weren’t a policeman, right, policewoman.

LB:

Yeah, policewoman. [laughter]

TS:

Do you remember any changes in security or anything like that?

LB:

Oh yes. We had THREATCON [terrorist threat condition] levels in the military, and then especially with the position and the job that we did. We had to come up with several plans, and I wrote many operation plans on how to defend the depot and what avenues of approach that people could possibly come to. I just did a really huge big study and presented it to the brigade, the 59th Ordinance Brigade. And the colonel there was so impressed, he was like, "Great stuff." He said, "You’ve really done your work on this." And I said, "Yes." So I think that got me an award also, like an ARCOM, an attaboy. ARCOM is an army accommodation [sic—commendation] medal.

TS:

So what was it like? Were there a lot of women in your field at that time?

LB:

Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. Matter of fact, it is true, if you talk to anybody—any of the women in the military—when I first went to basic in 1981, I was one of the first groups of females to come through basic. And that is the year that they had just dropped the height requirement for MPs. I got lucky. And so—

TS:

Why don’t you tell everybody what your height is so they get a perspective of that?

LB:

Well, at the time I was about 5’1.5", 5’2", and the height requirement was 5’4" for military police. So I was very fortunate that it all happened that year, you know, and I could get into the MPs and things like that. But at Fort Knox I had graduated second in my class, and then when I got to my Officer’s Basic Class, I graduated pretty high there too. And I came back in my advanced class, when I came back to the United States. I had to go to my Officer’s Advanced Class, and so I did pretty well there too.

TS:

So did—so were you—did you have—were you easily accepted into the MPs?

LB:

Oh, no, no, no, no, no.

TS:

Why don’t you talk about that?

LB:

I was not easily accepted into the MPs. When I first was at basic I remember the drill sergeants were putting three-quarter-inch plywood in between the walls to divide, so that the men would be on the one side and women on the other. Well, we would get the little peep holes, because you know the guys were drawing the little peepholes in there. So when we had to report that, then the guys got mad and the drill sergeants got mad, and they said, "Okay, all the women are going to be on the third floor. All the men on the first two floors." So we tried that. Well then, come [to] find out some men and women were going up and down steps meeting each other. So then the drill sergeants got mad at us again and made us do twenty-four-hour CQ, or command of quarters. We had to put in a twenty-four-hour schedule of everybody working so that we could sit in the stairway and prevent the men and the women from going up and down meeting each other.

So then of course since we, the women, were on the third floor, we were always late coming down to formation. And you know we always had the furthest to go to run up to our rooms to do something if we had to change. And so the drill sergeant would get mad about that, and then we’re like, "Well, what do you expect? You put us on the third floor of the barracks," you know. And so it was just kind of a new meaning to the drill sergeants. They were just like, "Wow." And back then you had to take PT [physical training] in your boots. There was no such thing. And for me the worst part about it was they were going to kick me out of the military because they did not make boots small enough.

TS:

What size did you wear?

LB:

A five. And so the military didn’t make women’s boots small enough, so they were going to kick me out. I had blisters all over my feet from trying to wear the smallest size that they did make, which was a six. And—

TS:

That’s a whole size bigger.

LB:

And then I had shin splints and I had—somehow I’d messed up my knees and all kinds of stuff. Finally I called my ROTC unit back at school and talked to the quartermaster, and I told him about what was happening and he told me what to do. I had to go somewhere on post and get my foot measured and they had to have exact length, exact width, exact height, exact arch. And so I did that and sent the measurements, and it was like a couple weeks later I had a brand new pair of boots.

TS:

Custom made?

LB:

Custom made for myself. And then, so prior to graduation—no, let me take that back. I graduated first, so I should’ve been the platoon leader. But because I had the metal braces on my knees, I had to walk in the platoon sergeant’s position, which is in back of the platoon, because of the way I walked at that time. And it was just, you know, kind of painful. So the guy that was the platoon sergeant, he didn’t mind going in the front as the platoon leader, you know. But it was still the thing of who’s first and who’s second.

TS:

How’d you think though in general of it? How did you think you personally were treated? Did you have any contact with any men who maybe didn’t treat you the way you thought you should’ve been?

LB:

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. And it was a learning process.

TS:

When you were over at this depot in Germany—which, you know, like I said that’s during the Cold War and there was a heightened tension, like you say there were different threat levels—how about men—did you feel like you had the respect of those you were commanding?

LB:

Yes. So just to get a little timeline here.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

When I went to the basic, that was in ’81. Now we’re talking ’84. During that three years, the army went from not knowing what to do with females to being very knowledgeable on females. They took great strides in trying to accommodate and treat everyone fairly. You had to go to classes to let you know how to treat everybody fairly. So it didn’t matter what race or sex. It did not matter. Everybody—the military really harped on everybody treating each other equal. And I think that it was one thing that I really loved about the military, because when I got out of the military I was like [gasps]. I was in stage fright, you know, kind of as a civilian after being in the military where everybody—they push really hard for everybody to be equal and for you to treat each other equally. And I was amazed when I got out as to how things really were. But anyway, that’s beside the point.

TS:

So you felt—did you feel then that you had the same opportunities as anybody else, like any man?

LB:

Oh yes. Oh yes, most definitely. Matter of fact, I mean it was kind of like history making that they would even put the female as an operations depot officer, because historically that position has always been held by a man in a first lieutenant or a captain’s position. So that right there was a big step forward, you know.

TS:

How about your relationship then up the line? How about the—with your commanders and stuff like that?

LB:

Wonderful. They all appreciated me. They all respected me. I had a booming career. If you know the ratings, I was a one-blocker—that they call people, that you’re a one-blocker. And that was the rating in which the higher-ups rated you. You could be either a three, a four, a two, or you could be the very top block. I mean the number one most outstanding person. So I was a one-blocker for my full three years in Germany. And then we came back to the states.

TS:

Okay, so let’s get back in. So where—so you were three years, but then your husband had to stay an extra year? So did you go—then you were stationed by yourself for that first year. Not by yourself but—

LB:

Well, he lived in Illesheim, so after we got married we were still separated.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And he had gone to Germany in 1982, so for him to fulfill a four-year assignment in Europe, he should’ve left in ’86. Well, by us getting married—and I had not fulfilled my four year requirement yet—he had to stay until ’87 when I had fulfilled my requirement and I could come back to the states.

TS:

Okay, I see. So he stayed another year.

LB:

He stayed another year.

TS:

He extended basically.

LB:

Extended, correct.

TS:

Okay, so now you’re back in the states and you’re stationed together?

LB:

Yes. We both got assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, but I had to go to Fort McClellan, Alabama, to go through my Officer’s Advanced Class. So he was living at Fort Benning and I was living in Anniston, North—Anniston, Alabama. And I went to my Officer’s Basic Class—I mean Officer’s Advanced Class, and I attended Provost Marshal’s Class.

TS:

How long were these classes? How long were you in Anniston, approximately?

LB:

Almost a year. It would be almost a year because I’d attended some extra classes. And then in—

TS:

Now did you put in for these classes or were you recommended? How did that work?

LB:

I asked for them, and I think that my company commander at the time they did the paperwork and put the paperwork in for me to be able to go to these classes. Because I just figured that was just something else that was going to keep advancing my career. You know, the more education I got the better off I was. And so Randy was renting an apartment in Fort Benning, Georgia, and I was renting an apartment in Fort McClellan. And then in the early part of ’88—it seems like it was around March or April—Randy decided that we were going—well, one of us needed to quit renting and that it was time to start doing home ownership. So we got a realtor and we looked, and our first home was a little brick home in a subdivision—in a subdivision that had a lot of homeowners association rules. And it was like if we had a fence, we had to have a private fence. We couldn’t hang clothes on a clothesline outside, you had to hang them in your garage. It was just a whole bunch of restrictions. We were like, "Hmm, don’t know if we really like this or not." So anyway, ’88—sometime in ’88, it seems like it’s the summer of ’88—I came to Fort Benning to live with Randy, and then my assignment was as a training officer for the Officer Candidate School.

TS:

How was that?

LB:

I’ll never forget that for as long as I live.

TS:

Why is that?

LB:

I checked in and I was shadowing another training officer, TAC [Training, Advising, and Counseling] Officer is what we were called. I was shadowing another one who was getting ready to leave, and I was going to take over his position. And at the time, for the Officer Candidate School, we had prior service military, plus we had ROTC graduates. So you can imagine when you’re trying to put enlisted personnel with ROTC second lieutenant graduates coming out—or maybe had not graduated ROTC or whatever, but they were going through Officer Candidate School—putting the two together and getting them to work together was quite a feat.

TS:

Why do you think that was?

LB:

I don’t know. It’s the difference in education, and it’s the difference in thought process—people’s thought process. So like, if an E5 [sergeant]—he’s already spent three years in the military, active duty, and now he’s getting put inside a room with a college kid. It’s like, "Uh oh. We don’t see eye to eye. We don’t understand each other." And so as a training officer you have to—well, first of all, it is not—today is not like it was then. So we had many avenues that we could utilize to get people to cooperate with each other and to start getting along.

TS:

Like what?

LB:

Push-ups, fire drills. And when I first saw this going on when I got there, it was like I was coming home crying. I’m like "Oh my god. You ought to see how they treat these people. This is terrible."

Randy’s like, "Just calm down, calm down. You’ll get used to it. Don’t worry about it." He said, "You’ll understand—eventually, you’re going to understand how to get that leadership and get them together."

And I was like, "Okay, okay."

Well, I think maybe about a month had gone by and I was like, "Now I understand. Now I understand." And it hit me like a ton of rocks. I was like, "I understand. I’ve got it now."

So when the other officer left and I took over, it was the fourth platoon, and I said—one of my mottos was, "May the force be with you." You know when they graduated and they got their butter bars on and everything, my thing to them was that, "May the force be with you." I am still contacted by some of those soldiers that went through training with me during that timeframe. I’ve got one guy who is a major now and he is in Alaska. And so it’s just that timeframe went from being sad to actually being very rewarding, to actually watch these people get together, get that camaraderie, get the courage, and then work as a team.

One cycle I had a group—oh my goodness gracious alive. And I’ll tell you about this. I’m not very happy about it, but that group did not want to work together for nothing in the world. So I had one kid I kept finding candy bars up above the ceiling stuffed behind the drop ceiling, so I had to make him do pushups all day long just about. And I had another guy didn’t even want to make his bed up. I’m like, "No." So I took his sheets off and everything—he didn’t lock his locker. I took all his clothes out and the sheets and the blanket, tied them all together, and ran them out the window. And you could see it when the candidates where coming back from class and every candidate walked past that stuff hanging out the window. You could hear it was like a real silence going, "Oh no, Captain Bray. Oh no. I feel sorry for the fourth platoon." You know. You could hear people talking like this. And I come out there, I was so mad. I threw the candy bars at him. I was like, "You’re not going to eat now. Get down, push!" You know, "Do pushups!"

And all of a sudden then it got hot.  Now all the other candidates in seven platoons are watching out their window watching me and my fourth platoon. Well, it started to get hot, so I got a garden hose out and started spraying them with water while they were sitting there doing pushups. And then when it wasn’t pushups, I was having them stand up and do jumping jacks. I was keeping them busy on stuff. And in the meantime, I was walking in between them and around them and I was reading to them the Constitution of the United States. And after about a half hour, forty-five minutes of this being drilled, they are getting tired. They’re getting weak. Their arms are beginning to shake because they just can’t do one more pushup. And this prior service E6 [staff sergeant]—Jennings is the last name—he said, "Come on you guys. Don’t let her beat us. Don’t let her beat us! We got to get together. We got to form together. Hang in there! We can do it. We can do it."

And I took that and I said, "You can do it. You can do it. You can work together." And I went off on that. And then I stopped and I said, "Okay. Now you go to your rooms, clean up, and get ready for chow."

And I had other candidates in other platoons come up to me—I mean, if I knew then what I know now, good lord, I probably would’ve lost my career. But I had other candidates and other platoons come up to me and they told me—this one black guy, he was really nice, he was an adjunct general’s aide. I was like, "Oh my gosh! What if that guy had reported me?" But when he became a captain he came back to Fort Benning, and he knew my husband. And he asked my husband, he said, "Can I—can we go to dinner and let me see your wife again?" And we did. We went to dinner and he just said, "Captain Bray," he said, "I want you to know that every candidate that went through that school and those classes, every candidate respected you more than any of the other officers."

I was like, "Oh! Thank you. I’m pleased that, you know, I’m honored that you would say this and you would come back years later to tell me this." So I was like, wow, that’s pretty intense. So my first couple of classes—

TS:

That’s a fantastic story.

LB:

Yeah. First couple of classes I did not swear in any officers. Finally I got this one group, the group I’m telling you about right now. They started out as like thirty-two, and I think they ended up graduating fourteen. And I had other platoons combine with me, just to make it a bigger platoon. And so anyway, upon—

TS:

So you’re saying a lot dropped out.

LB:

Correct, a lot dropped out. A lot. The guy that didn’t make the bed, that didn’t—that I ran the sheets—

TS:

The stuff out.

LB:

He dropped out. So finally—and this group was like a very special group to me, and I was like, I have just watched this group of men and women just transform, you know? It was incredible. So I had four of them come up to me and say—ask me, say, "Captain Bray, will you swear me in?"

I was like, "Well, I have never done it before." I said, "I didn’t want to get into that." I said "But you guys have honored me so much by the way that you have done, that yes, I’ll swear you in." And I was like—I was like, "Wow, I am so honored to be here," you know? And it’s like I grew up at that time too. And so I did, I swore them in as officers and I pinned on their butter bars for them, and many of them stayed in contact with me for many, many years afterwards. And like I said, I still got this one who’s a major in Alaska and he still stays in contact with me.

TS:

That’s great.

LB:

So finally—and it was this class that we were doing a twelve-mile road march and they had a large rucksack on, and it was almost a forced march. My platoon was at the end of the whole company, so it was doing an accordion-type effect. So basically for my platoon we were all just running just to keep up in the forced road march. And I fell. We were on a tank trail and I fell, and I fell on a rock. And Hunt—this major I’ve been telling you about right now—Hunt bent down, picked me up, scooped me up by my rucksack, and stood me back down and said, "Let’s go, ma’am!" So we went back to running again. And everybody in the platoon was kind of like [chuckles] giving a little snicker. And when they got dismissed they all just busted out laughing and they said, "Did you see Hunt pick her up and put her down and keep running!" [TS laughs] It was the funniest thing in the world. Well, when we did get back to the billets I was like, "Man my leg sure is hurt. I wonder what I did."

And so this was almost graduation time. This was like two or three weeks prior to them graduating. So when I—you know, we started slacking up on them at that time, because by that time they’re senior cadets and they’re very responsible and this, that, and the other. And these guys, what they do put—what they do at graduation they also get to put together—we have like a family day. They get to bring their family in and we bring our family in, and we just have a really nice sit-down, eat, and every platoon has to do a skit at the end.

Well, the biggest thing for me was we had this thing that was called "Trayline Ridge" where all the TAC Officers would sit there and they would drill the candidates as they came in and they came past. They had to pass Trayline Ridge before they could go sit down. So they had different stuff that they had to memorize throughout the time they were there: different mottos, different speeches, different things for each day. And so we would drill them, okay. You know, "What’s this? What’s that?" And so they would have to give us the answer. If they didn’t give us the correct answer, then it was like, "Drop and give me ten," so they had to do that. Well, it became known as Trayline Ridge.

And my platoon put together the skit, it was called "Heard It Through the Grapevine." It was to that tune, "I heard it through the grapevine." It was to that tune, but it was, "I heard it through the Trayline." And they did the skit and they mimicked me, and I’m going to tell you it was so funny. It is the best thing I had ever seen in my life. Because when I was on Trayline Ridge and they would answer or try to answer my questions, they would come back with, "Yes sir!" And I’m like, "I’m not a sir! I’m a ma’am!" I said, "You owe me five laps around the building, yelling. You have to yell, ‘Captain Bray is addressed as ma’am! Captain Bray is addressed as ma’am!’" And so all these candidates have been doing this now for months. So that skit that they put together to mimic me, and it was "Though the Trayline," it showed them mimicking me in different situations and wearing my hat and wearing my boots or something else. And it could be somebody would mimic some of the classes that I gave, and it was really funny. I mean it was. It was really, really funny. Everybody there could not help but laugh. I mean you wanted to laugh till you cried it was so funny.

So anyway that was my special class, and then I said, "Well, you know, my leg still hurts and I’m coming up on a three-week cycle break." I said, "I won’t do anything. I won’t run, I won’t do this, I’ll let this muscle heal." I thought it was the muscle.

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

TS:

You didn’t get it checked out?

LB:

No. So anyway, the next—the next class started, and I started with them. And we did a three-mile, four-mile, seven-mile, and an eight-mile road march. And after that, after the eight-mile road march, I got up the next morning and all the candidates came to me and they said, "Ma’am, you have got to go to the doctor."

I said, "What?"

They said, "You kept us up all night last night screaming." They said, "You have got to be in some horrible, horrible pain."

I was like, "Well, you know, my hips are sore."

So I went to the doctor. The doctor said, "You’ve got bursitis."

I said, "Well, it’s both of them. It’s not just one, it’s both."

And the doctor said, "Well, you got bursitis in both hips then."

So they prescribed some medicine, gave it to me. Then that medicine made me sick, so then I had to go back to the infirmary. And that doctor said, "You know what, I bet you got arthritis and bursitis, and this is a new medicine that we’re going to put you on."

I said, "Okay."

Well, something happened and one of the candidates came up to me and they said, "Ma’am," said "I really care about you and I want to let you know that I think there’s something more wrong because of the way you are walking."

And I had complained that my hips were hurting. I complained for like a solid month my hips were killing me. And so I went back to the infirmary and I was on my way out and the doctor said, "Stop." He said, "I just saw what you just did." He said "I’m sending you to the hospital for x-rays."

I said, "Okay."

It was eleven o’clock on a Friday morning and I went in to the hospital—walked in to the hospital, went to orthopedics, got my x-rays. And I’m standing there—in the military hospital, they’ve got seats that line the wall, so when you’re waiting for the doctor to read your x-ray and tell you that the x-ray is okay, that it’s clear, you’re good to go—So everybody is sitting against this wall in their little metal chairs or whatever. Well, this colonel walks out of his office and he turns and he faces down the hallway, and he’s like, "Captain Bray?"

And I stood up and I was like, "Yes sir."

He’s like, "Stop. Do not move. Do not move an inch." He said, "Stay right there. I mean it. I mean it. Just do not move."

And I’m like going, "Oh my god." Thinking to myself, "What have I done? What have I done?"

And he looks at me and he says, "You’re going to be lucky if you don’t get a court-martial for doing damage to government property."

I’m like, "Oh my gosh! What is he talking about?"

He calls for a nurse, a nurse comes and gets up a wheelchair for me, puts me in the wheelchair. He says, "I want you to come in here and see this. I want you to come in here and see what you’ve done." So I went in there and he’s got my x-rays up and he goes, "You see this and this and this?"

I said, "Yes."

And he says, "You see this and this and this?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "You have stress fractured both of your hips and your femoral neck can break at any moment with the least amount of pressure." He said, "You’re going to the bed and you’re going to stay in bed until Monday morning at eight o’clock when we can operate on you."

I was like [gasps] "Oh my gosh." Well, they got me in my room—

TS:

When was this?

LB:

This was in ’88. Yes, this was in ’88. This is in the fall of ’88. So they got me to my room, and I was in the room—at the time I was a smoker, a heavy smoker. And because back then, you know, it was kind of pushed. You know, people could smoke, people could drink beer. It wasn’t—

TS:

You got smoke breaks.

LB:

Right, "smoke ‘em if you got ‘em." We got smoke breaks and everything. This was in ’88. They put me in my room and I’m sitting there, and at the time officers could not be in the same room with enlisted people. So officers got a private room at the hospital. And so I was there. I’d been there about two hours. I was about to go nuts. I was shaking. I was like, "I’ve got to have a cigarette. I got to have a cigarette." So I kept dinging the bell for the nurse to come to the room, come to the room. And she came, and I said, "Look," I said, "one, I got to go to the bathroom. Two, I got to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Now, we can accomplish this in a couple of different ways. You can either bring me some crutches that I can walk on, or bring me a wheelchair. I don’t care which, either one."

And she goes, "Well, let me go see if the doctor will let you."

I said, "If you don’t let me out, I’m going to start smoking right here in this room."

And she says, "Oh but, but—oh, okay."

And anyway, they ended up getting me crutches. I got to the bathroom. I walked down the hall, got to the payphone, and I called my husband. And I said, "Randy," I said, "I need you to bring me some toothbrush, toothpaste, a hair brush, something to sleep with," because he was used to this because sometimes working as a training officer, I didn’t have the time to go home and get dressed and do all this stuff. I had to do it at the billets. I actually had a room at the billets that I could stay in during cycles. So he was kind of normal—used to this.

And he said, "Okay. What do you want me to do? Drop it off at the CQ?"

I said, "No, I want you to bring it to the hospital."

He said, "What?"

I said, "I am bedridden, and they have put me in the bed in the hospital because they’re going to do surgery Monday morning on my hips."

He said, "What?" He said, "What are you talking about?"

I said, "Randy, evidently I have broken my hips and they don’t want to risk me trying to walk or do anything." I said, "So you just going to have to bring that stuff to me."

So he then calls around to some friends of ours that are there and they’re like, "Guess what, Linda’s in the hospital. Linda’s in the hospital." It was just freaking him out.

So that night—I probably shouldn’t tell you this—but that night he and a friend of his—Mike Hurley, who we still talk to today; he just retired this year—he and Mike Hurley came to my hospital room. They brought pizza and beer, and Mike set up against the door so that the—none of the nurses could come in. And we set there and had pizza and beer on Friday night, and we just had ourselves a good old time.

And then finally, of course, Monday morning rolled around and I had to go into double pinning, double hip surgery, which had never been done. So the doctor that did it wrote a book about it. He got world famous. He got out of the military and became this famous doctor in New York.

TS:

[chuckles] Do you remember his name?

LB:

I don’t. I don’t remember his name.

So then I asked the doctor, I said, "Okay, what now?" because it was a six-month recuperation period. I said, "What now?" you know. I was like, "Well, you can’t be a training officer."

So the battalion S1 one had moved onto another position, so I got to move into the battalion S1 position, which is a personnel/administrative type position in the military. And I did that, and my operations officer—oh gosh. I wish I could remember his name. He was so good, and of course they all still one-blocked me and they all were helping me in my recuperation because it took me about I know at least two and a half months to be able to walk from my couch in my house, up my cul-de-sac, and back. Because I couldn’t understand, I just had to learn how to walk again. From the hip down I just had to learn how to walk again.

And finally when that got better and I was fully recuperated, then I said to the doctor, "What now?"

He said, "I don’t care what you do now. You’re bionic."

I was like, "Oh, that’s right. You did—you pieced me together, didn’t you?"

So he’s like, "You can run. You can do anything."

Well, the provost marshal of Fort Benning at the time, Colonel [Fred] Liebe—never forget him either. There was a man that had been assigned to Fort Benning, and the way they worked it in the military so that it would be fair to people is when you come in and sign in to a post at your new duty station, you fell into a sequential order. Well, company command was coming up for the 988th Military Police Company, and according to the statistics I was the next captain to take that command. Well, Colonel Liebe, the provost marshal, did not want me to do that. He sent a male captain to me who was over the prison—that was a command also.

He said, "I want your company. I want your force com company, and you can come take the prison command."

I said, "No, I don’t want to take the prison command. I don’t want to take the garrison command."

To understand the difference is one is like if you’re in the prison, then that’s your specialty. The other one is if you’re in the garrison command, then your position is to do the duties of the provost marshal on that post. My company was a force com command, meaning that my company was deployable and could deploy to anywhere if they were needed, because I was in the forces command.

But I want to backtrack on something, because the reason why this—I want to tell you this is because when I was in Germany and Randy and I were getting married, I converted from Baptist to Catholic. And during my catechism classes—when you get ready to get baptized—I wanted to be re-baptized in the Catholic Church, and my priest asked me, he said, "You know you can be baptized in a saint’s name. You can pick up a saint’s name."

And I said, "Well, why don’t you tell me about them?"

And he starts telling me about some of them. And he looks at me and he says—he says, "I have to tell you that I highly recommend that you pick the name Joan of Arc."

And I said, "Okay." And he told me about her and I was like, "Cool. Yeah, that sounds just like me." And so I was baptized in the name of Joan of Arc. And you’ll catch where this is going to come into play.

Now, I’m fighting for this forces command of the 988th MP Company. And I had to go to my doctor and get a letter from my doctor that told Colonel Liebe that I was completely fit to take a forces command job. So he didn’t like me right off the bat, because he was being forced to put—

TS:

Colonel Liebe?

LB:

Yes.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

He didn’t like me right off the bat, because he was being forced by the admin[istration] people,  personnel—he was being forced to give me command of that force com company.

TS:

Why do you think he didn’t want you to have it?

LB:

Because I was a female.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

He wanted a male to have it. And I guess he was still in the old fashioned days or old fashioned ways. So anyway, he was forced to give me that command, and I took command of the 988th MP Company. And this was in 1988 I took command. In 1989—I think I got my years straight; if not I can look it up. But in 1989 my company got orders to deploy to Panama. We were going to deploy as a peace operations assisting the Panamanian defense force, because [Manuel] Noriega and his forces were basically wreaking havoc, and he was in his dictatorship. Some people were getting killed and things like that. So we just—for Panama, Honduras, the MPs always did a rotation just to help maintain the peace. And so went to the operation center one day and we’re getting my company prepared to deploy. We start so many months out. It was like, you know, we had to get shots, we had to do all this other stuff.

TS:

How many were there in your company?

LB:

Two hundred and five at the time. And so then when I got the orders and we were, you know, going, about two months out—no—yeah, it was about two months out. I mean, but don’t quote me on that one. I got a call from the major in the operations center. He said, "Captain Bray, can you come over here now?"

And I said, "Yes sir."

So I went over to the Emergency Operations Center and I was sitting there. And he was a major and he was looking at me and he says, "Captain Bray, I can’t tell you anything." He said, "But if I tell you to keep your head down while you’re in Panama, do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?"

And I just looked at him and I said, "Yes sir. I think I understand what you’re trying to tell me."

And so evidently the look on my face when I walked back into that—into my company and walked in my first sergeant’s office and shut the door and looked at him, he said, "Oh god no, no. Oh god, no. No."

I said, "First sergeant, I’m so very sorry." I said, "I know you’ve been through enough with Vietnam, that you’re looking at this and you’re saying, ‘I’m walking right back into another hot spot or another situation.’" And I said, "I can’t tell you that," I said "but I think you get the feeling from what I’m saying."

And he goes, "I do, Captain Bray." He said, "I’ll get the guys together."

So we at that time started calling in the operations officer, and see Colonel Liebe again was mad because I couldn’t tell him what was going on. All he knew was I had started training my company with hand-to-hand combat. I took them to the driving range, made them all get re-qualified again. So I blew every budget I had, whether it was bullets budget, training budget, whatever, I blew it getting this company ready to deploy to Panama.

My husband was in the Rangers at the time, so the—

TS:

Was your husband an officer?

LB:

Yes, my husband was an airborne ranger master parachutist, so he got the RIs, which are ranger instructors, to come and teach my company. And we did rapelling. We did a whole bunch of things. We did a lot of maneuvers, a lot of training. And this was making him—making Colonel Liebe even more mad at me, because here I was doing this and he couldn’t know why. He just was like—he doesn’t have any control, and it’s like, "You’re right, you don’t have any control. Sorry. You don’t have control of this at this time."

And so I went ahead, we got deployed and everything. And we were in Panama I want to say something really small like eight days, and the situation that happened was a lieutenant and his wife were shot and killed at Quarry Heights, I believe, and they had sent us to act on our operations orders. Well, I was like, "Oh my gosh. I don’t know even know what they are. Nobody’s told me what our mission is." So I had a code to get into—I’m just scrambled at this time. I’m like, "Oh my God." You know, first sergeant knew to go ahead and get the guys dressed, ready up, issue guns, issue ammo. I’m like going, "Oh my gosh. I don’t even know who does what." And it was really, really, really screwy, and it was really, really crazy.

So I got into the safe, I got the operations order, and I’m trying to read it. Meanwhile all this other stuff is going on, and I’m like going, "Ahhh!" I’m trying to stay calm and everything else. You have to get the chaplain involved. So then I had to start coming up with what was going to happen, you know, and who was going where and who was going to do what. So I had decided that the two older lieutenants that I had—both of them were first lieutenants—they would be the two platoons that would go OPCON [Operational Control] to the infantry battalion. Meanwhile myself and the other two platoons and my headquarters platoon would go OPCON to the MP battalion.

So needless to say, that first alert was a disaster, but it taught us all. And when it was over the next day we went to battalion headquarters—I did, I went to battalion headquarters. And he’s like, "Okay." The battalion commander asked me, he says, "Okay, what did you learn?" you know.

TS:

So this was an alert, but you didn’t know it was an alert?

LB:

No, it was an alert. It was a real alert.

TS:

Right. No, I understand.

LB:

But he’s like, "Okay, what lessons have we drawn from this?" So all the officers got together and we came up with the lessons that we had learned and what had happened and what we needed to do.

TS:

I see.

LB:

So we needed to get more ammo, we needed to put a—implement an emergency plan for distributing weapons and ammo, and so there was lots—MREs. We had not even been issued our MREs, meals ready to eat. We had not even been issued our MREs yet, we were so new into—into the country.

TS:

So you are in Panama then?

LB:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

So for the next whatever few days it was—next four days, we just worked every day, almost every waking moment that we had, to get the meals distributed, to get the ammo distributed, get magazines distributed for the guns. And then I had to take the officers and my first sergeant, we had to hide in a van, in a Panamanian van, to go and recon[naissance] the areas that we were supposed to do and what we were supposed to do, and recon where the other two platoons were going to have to go and what they were going to have to do. So we were trying to do this secretly, and meanwhile the soldiers aren’t knowing anything about it.

So I put the plan together. I went back to the battalion. I presented it to the battalion commander. He said, "No."

I said, [gasps]. I said, "Why not?"

He said, "I’m not going to let you put that many people at risk." He said, "You’re going to go with the absolute bare minimum."

What the plan was, was we had the kennels [for guard dogs], 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. Well, my goal was to have—in the Humvee [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle] was going to be a Spanish-speaking soldier and a .50 cal[iber] gunner and another soldier. And what they were supposed to do—meanwhile, the rest of that platoon is waiting back down the road. You know, they’re waiting for the go—the word go. And another platoon had come in, and so what we were going to do is kind of attack it from the side and from the front, because we didn’t know what kind of resistance we were going to get. And so my idea was to have two Humvees, and the colonel said, "No." He said, "You’re only going to go with one."

I was like, "Those guys are going out there—those guys are being put out there by themselves." It’s like, "Oh no!" You know, it was like I knew—I was like, "Oh my god. They could easily be overtaken." Oh, it was a .60 gunner too.

And what else had happened was I was up at the command post up by the school that we had gone in and taken—taken over the school as our command post. And I was in the command post talking on the radio, and what had happened is the two platoons that went OPCON to the infantry battalion, they were still on my radio frequency. So they’re calling me and they’re telling me what’s going on, and they’re running into an ambush. So I’m like trying to talk to them and at the same time talk to the other two platoons that’s getting ready to attack the kennels. And my first sergeant jumps in a Humvee and he gets a driver and he grabs a gun and weapon and everything and he takes off flying down there.

TS:

Which way?

LB:

Down to—

TS:

To the kennels?

LB:

To the kennels. It’s like down the hill.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

All right. And so he takes off and I’m like going [makes noise]. I mean really, I’m just back and forth. And finally I got the two platoons to understand that they were on the wrong frequency and they needed to get onto the infantry frequency so that that commander could help direct them.

TS:

Right.

LB:

I wasn’t like trying to abandon them, but I just needed them to get off my frequency so I could handle what’s going on. By that time I just looked at my driver and I said—gosh, I got to get his name, because he’s a really great guy. I said, "Get in, let’s go." He got his gun, got his weapon, got his ammo, and we jumped in and—

TS:

What were you driving?

LB:

A Humvee. We took off and we got down to the very first stop, and so we left the Humvee there because nobody had put up a roadblock. I was like, "Oh my god! There’s supposed to be a roadblock right here." I said, "Here, put the Humvee here."

And some of the guys that were sitting there waiting, they said, "What do you want us to do?"

I said, "Follow me."

We hit this ditch and we were running in this ditch down to the front gate where the specialist guy—I can’t remember his name; it seems like it was a Martinez or something. The specialist, he’s announcing—gunfire had already started, so he had already announced for them to put down their guns and surrender. Gunfire was starting. Well, the .60 gunner is right here on my right, and so he starts just firing away. And I lay down and I pulled out my gun. I’m like going—I said, "Oh wait a minute. Wait a minute, wait a minute."

And about that time first sergeant said, "Cease fire! Cease fire!" And everybody started yelling, "Cease fire! Cease fire!"

So I told him I said, "Listen, don’t start hitting everything out there, because right now I’m telling you, what’s over there is a housing area and there are people that are actually out there. And there’s a horse riding stables on the other side, so don’t just start firing."

So I worked my way up another soldier crawling on top of him, and then I crawled on top of my first sergeant, and he’s like, "What are you doing?"

I said, "Somebody’s got to talk to headquarters and let them know what’s going on."

About that time I get into the Humvee. I’m laying on my stomach, I’m talking on the radio because they’re still calling me. I’m talking on the radio telling them exactly what we’re doing. We’re getting ready to charge the gate with the Humvee. I’ve got the .50 cal gunner standing on my back. The .50 cal mis-operated, so that .50 cal gunner is having to fire one round at a time, okay. And he’s standing on my back. So we crash the gate. We go straight in, and I said—my driver—

TS:

Was that with the Hummer that you had that you crashed the gate?

LB:

Yeah. My driver was still with me. And he says "What next?" you know. So I’m like okay, now we have to do this, we have to set up a roadblock over here, we have to maintain communications, we have got to stop their communications to getting to their headquarters. So I ran inside, and I had that Swiss Army knife that Jamie had given me—

TS:

Right.

LB:

—when I got my commission. I had that Swiss Army knife, and one of the platoon sergeants was standing beside me and the phone started ringing. I said, "Oh no! We’ve got to stop that." I pulled the phone line off the wall, took that Swiss Army knife, cut that stuff in half, sparks flew everywhere—matter of fact, one of them hit one of the sergeants on the neck. I said, "Well, that’s the end of that line of communication. We don’t have to worry about that anymore." So I said, "Let’s clear the building." So now we’ve got people coming in to clear the building.

One of my NCOs [non-commissioned officer] had gone into this room to the right and he goes, "Captain Bray, you need to come here."

And I walked in and I like—I’m like, "Oh, my gosh." There was a cache of weapons by the hundreds, by the hundreds.

TS:

What kind of weapons were they?

LB:

AK-47s and bayonets, and it was just—it was the biggest cache of weapons I’d ever seen. Well, come to find out, when everything was kind of calmed down, said and done, come to find out that kennels was also the home of the Panamanian Special [sic—Defense] Forces. So as we go through and we’re continuing to clear, then I get some of the guys to go into the sleeping quarters, and so we’re going through lockers and we’re doing this. There was a lot, a lot of gas mask protection and different things like that, and there was a lot of Cuban money in there. So the assumption from operations is that Cuba was probably helping Noriega out. And so, gosh, whew. Anyway, we finished and then I then I took one platoon and had them figure out a rotating schedule to secure the area. Because we had to secure the area before we could call in another company to replace us so that then we could go and do other missions.

TS:

Now did you run into—were there a lot of people in there, or was it—had they mostly scattered by then?

LB:

They had mostly scattered, yes.

TS:

Probably that .60 that was shooting.

LB:

Yeah. They had mostly scattered, because we hit the side with a [M]203.

TS:

What’s a 203?

LB:

It’s a grenade launcher.

TS:

Okay. The side of the kennel?

LB:

Yes. So we—then we had to establish twenty-four-hour security, so we had done that. I had gone to the headquarters and briefed the colonel on what had happened and what had occurred, and told him, you know, everything. And it was—I said, you know, "Now we need to get replacements, you know. The other MP company needs to come and take over our position."

And he said, "Not until you have it completely secured."

So it was the next morning like, I don’t know, five or six o’clock in the morning and I radioed in that we had it secured, that that company could come in. So that company was that company commander’s company at the garrison at Fort Meade, Maryland. So he—and there was a female commander of that company.

TS:

Do you remember her name?

LB:

No, I sure don’t. But—I know I’m getting—

TS:

That’s all right.

LB:

I know I’m jumping around. But finally they came in. They relieved us. And then the two platoons and the headquarter platoon with me, we had to go. Our operations changed. We became OPCON to an infantry battalion. So before that occurred, I had not been able to find my other two platoons. I didn’t know what had happened to them, I didn’t know anything. And so with all the missions that we were running, I just kept getting the word out, "Look for them, look for them. Find out."

And this was seven days later I got word of where they were, and me and my driver took off. I filled up the Humvee with MREs and ammo, anything that we could spare, and I took off, because I didn’t know how they were being taken care of. So I took off. I found them. They were downtown Panama City, doing roadblocks and things like that. Gosh, I can’t remember the name. They had to—one was securing Quarry Heights. That was one platoon. And then the other one was down the hill towards Panama City doing this—doing the roadblocks and stuff. And I was so happy I found them I jumped out of the jeep, and I was like, "Oh my god! I’m so glad I found y’all!" And about that time these soldiers just came in and they swarmed over me. And I’m like, "How are you guys?" You know, I’m like, "Do you have enough food? Do you have enough ammo? Are these guys treating you well? Is everybody okay?"

TS:

Right.

LB:

You know? And they’re like, "Yes, ma’am."

And I’m like, "Okay, what’s going on?"

And they said, "Well, there’s a sniper in the building up there and we didn’t want you to get hit."

TS:

[laughs]

LB:

I was like, "Thank you so much! Thank you so much. I really appreciate that." I said, "That’s very honorable for you all to do that." Anyway, so I gave them their stuff and I said, "You know, at some point in time I know we’re going to be back together, so stay strong and stay tight."

So my driver and I left and we went back to where my other two platoons were. And that night at eleven o’clock I had to go find a—this infantry battalion commander somewhere downtown Panama City. So it is—now it’s pretty stinky. It’s, oh, very nasty. Water—you know, water mains were broken, water is running everywhere. You had—people were still laying around. And I went down and I found this battalion commander and I told him, I said, "Sir, I’m Captain Bray. I’m reporting to you. We’ve been OPCON to you now. I have two platoons." This is my strength, you know. I told him how many people I had, what I had, where I was at as far as weapons, ammo, and food.

And he said, "You know what?" He said, "I think you’ll do better off talking to my operations officer."

I said, "Okay."

So here we are, we’re just kind of running around like little ants, keeping our heads down, utilizing anything we could find for cover to get from one location to another location downtown. And to get to the back of this APC, an armor personnel carrier, and the colonel opens the—they do their signal to get the colonel to open—to get the person—the operations officer inside to open the door. And they open the door, and I look up and I go, "Oh my god, Hurley." It was my friend Mike Hurley that had brought the pizza and the beer to me in the hospital. So I looked up and I said, "Oh, Mike! Oh god, I’m so glad to see somebody I know!" you know. And we were just like, "Oh yes. It’s nice."

And he said, "Linda, I hate to tell you but we’ve already lost four people."

And I was like, "Okay." I’m thinking, "Oh lord, have mercy, you know. What are we going to do next?"

He gave me what the operations was from there and what we had to do, and we were basically in charge of setting up a POW [prisoner of war] camp. My gosh—no, I got turned around on that. Yeah, we were basically in charge of getting to set up a POW camp, and then to also maintain the roadblocks. The whole company came back together at that time. So we were all with this one infantry battalion now. So I knew what people were going, what missions they were going to. Then we moved into a more stable location onto Quarry Heights. So we had our base, our operations center, coming out of there. And so things were starting to calm down now, and things were starting to get under control.

Before—I can’t remember. I’ll have to talk to somebody. But at some point in time, we went to the—we got—when we were OPCON-ed with this infantry battalion, our command post had to go to the Panamanian—to the police station downtown. We had to take over the police station. Oh, here we go. I got it. I got it. The battalion commander of the infantry company got his orders to relocate his command center to the police station, because word was out that there were tunnels from the police station going to the bank, and tunnels going to Noriega’s office in downtown Panama. And so we had to go with them to that police station. And when we got there, it was in a mess. But anyway, we started clearing it and everything and making sure everybody was out. And I’ll never forget it: An E6—I can’t remember his name right now—but he bends over and he picks up a skull and he’s like, "Hey, ma’am. You want this as your desk ornament?"

And I’m like, "No. Please no. Put it down."

But anyway, we went in—

TS:

Is that what you mean by mess?

LB:

Oh, it was blown up to pieces.

TS:

Yeah.

LB:

It was blown up to pieces. So we did what we could, and then we started taking our orders from the infantry commander. And then from there is when we went—now this is probably—I don’t know what kind of timeframe we’re looking at right now, which is probably about three weeks, okay, into January. We then moved to Quarry Heights, and that’s when they were sending—they started sending in all the reporters.

TS:

Now just for my memory’s sake, because I don’t remember, because Noriega hunkered down for a while, right?

LB:

He did, yes.

TS:

Now, was he still hunkering down during this time?

LB:

Yes.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

Yes, he is. And then one of our missions was to secure the Papal Nuncio.

TS:

Papal Nuncio?

LB:

That is like the—that is the—that’s like the mission, the Catholic mission.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

He was there, and then the priest was actually the one that talked him into surrendering. But, oh my god, so much went on.

TS:

Yeah.

LB:

You wouldn’t believe. I have left out—in that matter of those three weeks, I think my mission did—my company did over a hundred missions, so you’ve got to imagine.

TS:

It’s a lot.

LB:

It’s a lot. And then—

TS:

What kind of things—what kind of things—were you mostly like securing areas or—

LB:

Yes.

TS:

Covering for other, you know, I’m not good at army terms.

LB:

Yeah. We were running POW camp, we were running—

TS:

How many were in the POW camp? Do you remember that?

LB:

No, there was—oh, there was a lot.

TS:

Like hundreds or thousands?

LB:

Yeah, I’d say hundreds.

TS:

Hundreds.

LB:

Hundreds, yeah. And trying to sort out who was actually friendly and who was foe was a heck of a problem.

TS:

How did you try to do that?

LB:

It wasn’t easy. It’s like you know—it’s like in the military you’re trained, you have your codeword for the day, and you have this and you have that. And there was just, oh lord, so much. Like one—there would be—I would have probably fifteen missions going on at the same time, having to keep up with it. And I was like [gasp]. Now I look back on it and it was like, "Oh my god, I did that?"

So anyway, when we got to Quarry Heights and we were securing Quarry Heights, that’s when they started bringing in all of the reporters. And they were letting the political leaders come to Panama now at this time because things had calmed down so much. And so they were all being secured. And so, let’s see, we would have to take like a team of four to provide personal security for a senator that came in. We would have to take a team of four to secure safeway houses, so—because we had to take and put some dignitaries in those safeway houses.

TS:

Like what kind of dignitaries are you talking about?

LB:

Panamanian dignitaries. You know, because Noriega had shot the—I want to say he had shot and killed the Panamanian—the Panamanian ambassador. And so for the other dignitaries that were—

TS:

I see, from other countries and things?

LB:

—in charge in Panama—

TS:

I see.

LB:

—they had to be taken care of. They had to be hidden out of the way until Noriega was caught and Noriega’s people were caught. So anyway, we’re on Quarry Heights and the reporters are coming in, and I had a female as an M60 gunner. And this reporter, his name was Peter Copeland, walked in and they were checking him in at the gate. And her name—she was blonde; I can’t remember her name. Gosh, I forgot so much. But she was behind the M60 guarding the gate and they were letting these reporters come in. And this reporter walked over to her and he said, "You’re a female."

She said, "Yeah?" She’s kind of a real sassy, you know. And she said, "Yeah, I’m Specialist So-and-so."

And so he asked her, he said, "Have you been doing missions out here?"

She says, "Heck yeah!" And she’s like, "We did this, this. We did this and this," and this guy’s mind is about to blow right now.

TS:

Peter Copeland?

LB:

Peter Copeland. And he’s like, "I didn’t even think they let females in combat."

And she goes, "Well heck, that’s nothing. My company commander’s a female."

And I was like—then he comes to see me. And I was like. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," you know. And then the story hit the—what is that, the [news] wire?

TS:

Yeah, you betcha.

LB:

The story hit the wire said, "Oh my god, first female to lead troops in combat." [Colorado Congresswoman] Patricia Schroeder, [New York] Senator [Al] D’Amato—I got a call from the Panama—

TS:

From the Panama?

LB:

From the White House. I had to go talk to all these people, and I had to go talk to my four star commanding general in Panama.

TS:

Who called from the White House?

LB:

[Press Secretary] Marlin Fitzwater.

TS:

Oh, okay.

LB:

I’m surprised I’m memorizing all this.

TS:

You’re doing good.

LB:

I got called in. I had to go see the four star general commander of the [U.S. Army] Pacific Command [LTG Charles W. Bagnal?], and I’m trying to remember what his name was.

TS:

That’s all right. We can look that up. Don’t worry about that. We can look that up.

LB:

I went and sat down with him.

TS:

How’d that go?

LB:

And of course by this time, with everything going on, it was like the army had a military policy that women couldn’t be in combat arms units. Patricia Schroeder took that to say women could not be in combat. And "what has the military done?" You know, it was almost an attack, and that got the reporters confused, which then in turn confused the public. It’s like they’re talking about the combat patch, you know. We weren’t going to get the CIB, which is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, even though we were OPCON to an infantry battalion. We weren’t going to get that. A lot of civilians weren’t understanding that CIB was designated specifically for the infantry.

Since that time, several things have occurred. They have a new medal now for units that are not infantry, but they get their own combat pin now because of this. Because everybody was arguing about the con—the infantry badge versus the patch. And there’s a difference, and that got confusing to public and everybody. They weren’t understanding. And the politicians weren’t—politicians weren’t paying attention to the actual verbiage that was coming out. So there would be different stories, and there would be conflicting stories of what was going on and what was going on around in Panama.

And this is Senator D’Amato—[showing photo]

TS:

Oh, there you go.

LB:

—that I had to go to breakfast with. And what I did while I was at breakfast with him, and while we were down securing the Papal Nuncio, the mission—

TS:

We’re just looking at some pictures that Linda has pulled out.

LB:

While I was down there securing the mission, one night I had a soldier that needed to go to Ward B at the hospital, so I had to go and talk to him and then I had to get the chaplain and then get him evacuated out. And while I was down there, this young lady came up and gave me this letter. And it was just a letter of thanks, saying thank you for all that you’ve done, all that the Americans has helped us do, and getting Noriega out of leadership, and this and this, and how it had helped her family, and what just in the, you know, weeks that things have been going on, it was just a letter about how everything had helped. And so I read it and gave it to Senator D’Amato and—

TS:

Who was it addressed to?

LB:

American soldiers.

TS:

I see.

LB:

American soldiers. And I told her, I said, "Don’t worry, I’ll get this out and I’ll let people know. And I really appreciate it." So anyway, I gave the letter to Senator D’Amato and I don’t know what he did with it, but he’s got it or he had it. And that was just this whole thing. And this is my driver. Of course, these guys were from different units, but that Senator D’Amato had requested they come and meet with him for breakfast. But he is also one of the dignitaries we had to secure.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

Well, it boiled down to, he said, "I am going to a party tonight at the ambassador’s house. Why don’t you go with me?" And I’m thinking, "Oh, no." And there’s Sergeant Hanna[?] and somebody else I can’t remember, they were the security for him. Anyhow, I went back to—by this time everything had really calmed down. Noriega had been caught.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

Okay, Noriega had been caught, and our people had helped with that, getting him on the plane and everything like that. My company helped with all that. So by this time Noriega had been caught. But there were still hostilities and, you know, different firings going on different places around the town. And I know exactly—it was after my birthday because my birthday is January 12. On January 12 I was in a concrete bunker on the Bridge of Americas waiting to be attacked. So this is how I know this is after—

TS:

Okay, that’s after that date.

LB:

It’s after that date. And so I said, "You’ve got to be kidding me."

And he goes, "No. You’ll love it."

Meanwhile, I had to go back. We have now—my command post, my company, the soldiers, everybody—we have gone back to our Quonset huts. And we are staying there. We’re staying in housing on one of the little military spots on the other side of Panama.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And so I went back and I actually did have a dress that I had taken with me in my trunk. And so I got out a dress, got out some shoes, and I was fairly—

TS:

Just like every girl going into a combat zone—[laughs]

LB:

I was fairly dressed nice. It was a white—it was a white dress. And it could’ve been that I purchased it down there. I’m not sure.

TS:

Maybe so.

LB:

But I did. I had a white dress. I remember it just because everybody was laughing at me because here I am in this white dress, nice shoes, and I’m still wearing my Kevlar helmet and my flak jacket. And now all of a sudden, here’s me and my driver being escorted by two more teams of my company downtown to the ambassador’s house. Like, "Oh gosh. What in the world?" And they’re just laughing because they just—to see this picture of being dressed up in the Kevlar helmet and flak jacket, it was just—it was kind of—

TS:

It’s like over top of your dress.

LB:

Exactly, it was over top of my dress. It was kind of a funny sight.

TS:

Do you have a picture of that?

LB:

Well—

TS:

Oh, I hope so.

LB:

—what happened was—

TS:

Oh, there you go.

LB:

—when we got inside the compound—of course the soldiers that were doing security from my company, that were doing the security, they had to wait outside the compound. Only myself and the senator went in through the compound gates—and his driver.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And we went in—you’re going to die over this one. We went in and went into the basement of the house and I’m just like [gasps] looking at this place.

TS:

Sure, sure.

LB:

I’m just, "Oh my gosh." I couldn’t believe it—I mean this ambassador’s house. We’re in the basement and everything that was real, real, real nice, and then the main party was upstairs. He was holding a party, a political party, entertaining politicians and the Panamanian reporters, okay. So it would be like kind of like getting to go to the White House and being right there at the place. And so I went up the steps up to where the main party was at, and when I walked up, this is the priest that talked Noriega out—

TS:

Wow.

LB:

—of the mission. You see this cross?

TS:

Yes.

LB:

This is Senator D’Amato, this is me, and this is the ambassador.

TS:

Oh wow.

LB:

Okay. I drew a picture one time and somebody said, you know, "Look at this and tell me what you see." And I drew this picture. And so when I walked up the step and I saw that on—

TS:

Oh, so you drew it before you saw this?

LB:

I drew this when I was in college.

TS:

Wow. The picture of the cross?

LB:

The picture of the cross. I drew this when I was in college. So when I walked around the corner going up those steps and this man was standing there, I was like, "Oh my god." And so I just went on up there, we all got introduced, we took pictures.

TS:

Now the ambassador that you’re talking about, is that the ambassador to Panama—the U.S. ambassador to Panama?

LB:

The Panamanian.

TS:

The Panamanian.

LB:

He was like the—he—when the one guy got killed, he moved up into his place.

TS:

So he was in the Noriega administration?

LB:

He was already—no, he was in the Panamanian political organization.

TS:

I see, okay.

LB:

The Panamanian process.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

Now you’ve got to imagine a real thriving company—I mean, company—a real thriving country that had leadership in place. They had, you know, all of the democratic leadership in place, and then Noriega over the years—many, many, many years—had come in and it was dictatorship. He was doing dictatorship, which is exactly what Fidel Castro believed in in Cuba. So when we got Noriega back to the states, the Panamanian leadership that was there came back into place. They came back into a democratic type government. So there was a lot of stuff going on. And—

TS:

It’s amazing that you got to attend this.

LB:

Oh, yeah. Well not only that, I’m standing outside—of course Panama is 110 degrees or something—but I’m standing outside and I’m just like I’m still—I still have not touched ground. It still has not sunk into me, you know, what everything had happened and everything. And I was standing there and a reporter walked up to me and started talking to me, and I was like, "I am on Spanish TV now." And she starts in—she starts asking me questions and I said, "Well," I said, "all I can say to you is I want to say a big thank you to the Panamanian people who helped support the Americans in accomplishing the mission of getting rid of Noriega." I said, "You guys snuck out and you passed notes to my soldiers, and you would let them come and use your phone so they could call home and let their families know that they were okay." I said, "I really want y’all to know that was greatly appreciated. The notes that you have sent to my soldiers and are giving to my soldiers, that has inspired them so much that they are very proud. And they feel very proud and they show it, and they’re very respectful. So in a sense the Panamanian people, you have come to our aid as we came to your aid." And we kind of ended the interview at that time.

TS:

Wow, that’s great. You’ve been talking for almost two hours straight. Do you want to take a little break? Yeah?

LB:

Well, I’m—I guess I could go to the bathroom.

TS:

Okay, we’ll take a break.

[Recording paused]

LB:

And so by—

TS:

Okay, we’re back with Linda. We’re going to start up again.

LB:

Well, by this time of course, everybody in this neighborhood had already came to Panama and different stories were coming out. One person was saying this, another person was saying that—

TS:

You mean the reporters?

LB:

Yes, the reporters. And with every story I saw or I read, things were getting turned around, stuff like that. You know—

TS:

How do you think it was getting misconstrued, I guess?

LB:

Well, the whole big mix-up of the combat patch versus the infantryman’s badge. That went for quite a while. And then one person would say I was 5’ and eighty-nine pounds, next person would say I was 5’1" and ninety-six pounds. I think the first person started—the first reporter came out that I was 5’2", a hundred and five pounds, and then the next one came out with something else. What they didn’t understand was I was losing weight. So yes, I started out at 5’1.5" at a hundred and five pounds, but by the time things kept going I kept losing weight. Now, it gets to the White House and some people are like thinking about retracting stories, and then it turned around and it was like they were trying to kill it. They were trying to kill the story. And when I had to go see this four-star general—

TS:

Oh, right. Okay.

LB:

When I had to go see this four-star general, they were prepping me to get ready for interviews with ABC, CB[S], NBC, and CNN. So I went to see this four-star general, and he sat down beside me and he put his hand on my leg like this, and he said, "Captain Bray, do you know the military’s opinion of what’s happened here?"

And I looked at him I said, "Yes sir. I do believe I do. I think I have a good understanding of the military’s feelings on women in combat."

He said, "Okay," he said "I just wanted to know. I just wanted to make sure that you’re okay." He said, "This is Lieutenant Colonel Something. He will take you down for your interviews."

I said, "Okay."

TS:

That’s all he had—that’s all the four-star general said?

LB:

That’s all the four-star general said.

TS:

He didn’t like say—that was it? He just asked if you knew?

LB:

Yeah.

TS:

Okay, that’s interesting.

LB:

So he turned me over to a colonel in public affairs, and we went downtown Panama to this hotel and got up there, and the colonel looked at me and he said, "Do you know what you’re going to say?"

And I said, "No, I have no idea what I’m going to say," I said, "but, you know, if you see that I’m going to say something wrong, you know, just hold up your hand and I’ll change my train of thought."

And he said, "Okay."

So I got up there and I got on that balcony, and of course here’s this big camera, black, facing me. And I’m looking into the camera and I’m hearing—I think the first—I can’t remember who was the first person to interview me, but I know my first interview did not go as well as every other interview afterwards, because they asked me the question, they said, "What is your—what is your stance on women in the military?"

And I sat there and I thought and thought and I said, "I’ll tell you what, 1983 I raised my right hand and I said, ‘I, Linda Bray, do solemnly swear to defend,’"—you know, I said my oath, "and I support and defend the country," or whatever. I gave them speech. I gave the swearing oath in. I gave that and I said, "All I’ve done is exactly what I swore I would do." And I could see the colonel, he was—at the start of my answering that question, he’s, you know, I could see him like this, waiting to hear what I had to say. And then by the time I was getting to the end of what I had to say, he goes—He sits back, he smiles, and he says, "Yes, yes."

So I learned very quickly how to deal with—I want to say reporters and how to answer questions. I learned it by—what is it, trial by fire or something like that? So my subsequent interviews went a lot better. And I just—I stayed with this same concept, you know. I took an oath to do defend the country, and I have done what I have—was told to do, and that’s it.

[End CD 2—Begin CD 3]

TS:

What did you think about this whole—I mean, you’re pretty much in the limelight. What—did you take a breath to stop to thing about that? I mean you went to the ambassador’s party, you crashed a gate, and now you’re talking to reporters.

LB:

No. It still—Nothing has still hit me at this time.

TS:

At this time?

LB:

At this time, nothing has still hit me. What had happened in the meantime, you know, reporters from different magazines were still coming in, and this, that, and the other. Things had calmed down. We’re probably at the two-month mark now of being in Panama. And what had happened is Colonel Liebe had taken some of my MPs and put them in the TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command], the garrison company, so that he could continue to do the security on Fort Benning that he was required to do. So my company got reduced to about a hundred and—I think it was around a 175 people maybe.

TS:

How many did you start with?

LB:

Two hundred and five.

TS:

That’s right.

LB:

So we were reduced to about a 175 that we deployed. Well now, at this point, two months into it, we had soldiers that had to PCS [permanent change of station], that had to go back, you know. And so as we sent soldiers back, nobody was sending us soldiers to refill. So the company was quickly diminishing at the same time we were still required to do a lot of work. Well, the MP battalion commander I had in Panama was mad because my company was not up to par, meanwhile Colonel Liebe was mad because he was losing people and people were not getting breaks or time off from the security of Fort Benning. So then at that point I just said, "The two of you need to talk it out, because he’s holding up my people from coming here, and you’re wanting me to get my people that are being assigned to the 988th MP Company." I said, "but you two have got to talk that out. You’re both colonels. You’re both full bird colonels and y’all just let me—y’all just tell me what your decision is."

And so during this time, an investigation started. Time went on and that MP colonel in Panama called me in. And he said, "I need for you to tell me about the night at the kennels."

I said, "Okay." So I told him blow by blow. I told him that there were some dogs that we had to kill because there—we couldn’t get—we could not even get in the front door because they had guard dogs trained to attack, and so we had to kill those dogs so that we could get in.

He said, "About how many?"

I said, "I will say a total of about four or five, something like that."

And he said, "Are you sure? Will you swear to it?"

I said, "Most definitely. I said, "You can talk to people in my company. You can talk to the NCOs that shot them." You know?

And he said, "Okay." He said, "No, no problem," He said "but you need to quit talking to the press." He said, "You need to just quit talking to anybody at this point."

And I was like, "Okay." I still didn’t know what was going on.

Well, the reporter from—there was a reporter from a magazine; I can’t remember which magazine—came and she took the picture of me and my soldiers around a Humvee. And the colonel—the battalion commander MP in Panama saw it and he came up to me and he said, "Captain Bray, am I going to have to file charges against you for failure to obey an order?"

I said "No sir. I said I did not talk to that reporter. She just took my picture. She talked to the soldiers, not me." So he was, you know—anyhow.

TS:

[laughs] You can say that on tape. That’s all right.

LB:

He was being a very big butt hole is what I’ll say. So I was having a hard time either way I went. It didn’t matter. With my colonel at Fort Benning or the colonel that was currently in Panama, versus the reporters, versus senators and different stuff. And it was just like, "Yeah, I need to stop. Until you guys can get the stories straight, I just need to stop."

TS:

Right.

LB:

So I did. We got back home—it was in April of ’91 [sic ’90]. And when I got back, I guess I had lost down to about, I’ll say like ninety-two pounds. Of course, when we flew in—when my plane flew in, half of my company had already deployed home days earlier, so they were there. I stayed behind to bring all the rest. And so when we were flying in, we were to land on the parade field and they were going to do the big parade and all this stuff. And I remember getting off of the plane and somebody met me at the door of the plane and said, "Here. Here’s what you’re supposed to say and here’s what’s going to happen and here’s how it’s going to happen, so you do this and this and this." I was like, "Oh my god."

And we get off the plane and we start marching off and we’re coming off in twos, and everybody starts pulling down their—everybody starts pulling down their sleeves because it’s cold. It’s cold at this time, and we were used to 110 degrees temperature. And so everybody’s trying to do it nonchalantly so that it wouldn’t be a big deal. So we did and we marched on and we marched into our places. The assistant commander, Colonel—I want to say Fowler, Colonel Fowler—did the greetings and things like that. Colonel Liebe then stepped up and he was doing the commands for me. And then I did the commands for the platoon leaders. We went on through the ceremony, and Colonel Liebe looked at me, he said, "Wow," he said, "I guess everybody lost a lot of weight."

And I said, "Yes sir." And that was kind of the gist of that.

And so then all the families had been invited and we were to all go into this hangar and just have a social thing. And my mom and dad came to see me, and during the ceremony I could see my mom and dad, that’s how close it was. And my mother is just there and she’s got tears streaming down her face, and my dad. And so it was real hard for me to maintain my composure and do all the things I was supposed to do for the ceremony. Well, after the ceremony was over and everybody was dismissed to go to the hangar, you know, I just went up to mom and dad and just hugged them and they just hugged me. And then I had a reporter standing behind me. She tapped me on the shoulder and she said, "Captain Bray, can I talk to you?"

And I said, "No." I said, "I’m with my family right now, and if you don’t mind just give me some peace."

And so me and my family we went on in the hangar and everything. And my mother’s like, "Oh, my gosh. You’ve lost so much weight. You look really bad." But I was in probably the best shape I had ever been in my life, you know, because we did PT every day and we worked out. So I was probably in the best shape I’d ever been in, but it was just shocking to my parents to see the drastic change in me.

TS:

Had they talked to you at all in the time that you’d been deployed?

LB:

Yes. It was seven days—seven days had gone into effect when I got to change my socks and kind of do a spit bath and change uniforms. But I wore the same uniform, same socks, same everything for seven days straight. And when I did get to get to a bathroom and take a little spit bath and change clothes, when I pulled my socks off, they literally, literally stayed in the same shape. You could stand my socks up, looked like they’d been starched, just perfectly made that way. But I guess we were around week three or week four, but meanwhile all this other stuff had come out.

TS:

That’s what I was wondering.

LB:

Yeah. All this other stuff had come out. The media came to my high school, they went to my parents’ home, they went to my personal home, they were going in taking pictures of just my picture on the wall. I mean it was ridiculous of what was going on. And I’m like going, "Oh my god," you know. It’s like I feel like I have an invasion of privacy here. I got a—what was it? I got a letter bomb delivered to me at the MP station.

TS:

A real bomb?

LB:

A real bomb.

TS:

That was at Fort Benning?

LB:

Yeah, at Fort Benning, in the police station. So anyway, this is after—this is afterwards. It was probably—this is—well, what happened when we came back was we, you know, got all of our equipment accounted for and everything inventoried and this, that, and the other. And there was another man waiting for a company command. Well, at this time my hips were hurting again. So I went back to the doctor, and this is—no, let me back up even further. This was, let’s see, about—this was about three weeks after we got back in April. I had a call from Colonel Liebe and I had to go to his office. So I went to his office and he told me that the Panamanian government had pressed charges against me for damage to private property, damage to government property, animal cruelty, just a whole array of charges with fines in the millions of dollars, okay? And I was like, "What are you talking about?"

He said, "You need to go get representation, a lawyer. You need to go get a lawyer."

And I was like—

TS:

Did he want you to get a personal lawyer or a military lawyer?

LB:

Military lawyer. I said, "Okay." I said, "What’s going to happen?"

He said, "Well, you’ve launched the largest CID [Criminal Investigation Division] investigation in the whole southeast region."

And I went "What?" I said, "Oh no."

So I went flying back to my company. I told my first sergeant what was going on, then I had a swarm of CID agents coming in to investigate different people, me. I had to—they were conducting the investigation. And about—I made sure that my soldiers got representation and myself, and so we just—everybody told their side of the story. Everybody was interviewed differently about the attack on the kennels.

And so then when it come around to it, the female that was in charge of the other company, that was that battalion’s company at Fort Meade, she came up and replaced me, or replaced my people at the kennels. And she sent a team of soldiers in there and she told them, she said—what was it that was used?—"Take care of the dogs." Well, what happened is those soldiers went in there and shot every dog in the place—shot them in the head. And afterwards, the Panamanians were pulling all of their dogs out and throwing them in a huge big fire. And when I was told that I was like, "Oh my god. No way would it be me. I guarantee you. No way it would be me, and no way anybody in my company would’ve done that." Well this CID investigator kept going and kept digging and kept digging until he found out exactly who it was, who did it. Now, that has really upset the lieutenant colonel of the battalion, because it was his own company that did it. So now I’ve got him mad at me too, politically.

TS:

Right.

LB:

Okay? In the hierarchy of things. And so then I have Colonel Liebe coming down on me, and he’s like, "Well, you’re combat tested, aren’t you now? You can do this and you can do that and this, that, and the other." Anyway, they held up all of our awards, my whole company’s awards. They held them all up until the CID investigation was over. And then they released all the awards for all of my guys, which by this time had been split up because the—Colonel Liebe and the sergeant major decided that a company that goes to war together can’t work in peace together. So they started transferring all these people out of my company into the garrison company and mixing everybody up. And so I was like, "Okay, whatever, fine."

And then that battalion commander at Fort Meade had to do an OER [officer evaluation report] on my performance down in Panama. So then that was—I got that, and I finally got my award, but it didn’t come until I was about to get out of the army. But my—it was in August I’d gone back to the hospital. The doctor said that they need to remove the pins. So I told Colonel Liebe to go ahead and get Captain Freeman, that we would go ahead and change command early. I would agree to do that, change command early, so that I could go and have my surgery to get these pins out. Because I literally had meat-to-screw, and it was tearing and I was like bleeding on the inside. So we did change of command, which made him very happy. And he did my OER, and he marked me as a three.

TS:

Who was it that did your OER?

LB:

Colonel Liebe. He marked me as a three. For every other man in that command, he marked them as a one. So essentially he just killed my career at that point. And when that OER got to—well, I had had—already had my surgery. And when that OER—because I was then being reassigned to a medical company, but I was going to have to go back and work at an MP station. Anyway, he did that. He did my OER and all that. Finally it got up to—I was on the way to being medically discharged, because my hip didn’t heal back right. I was getting close to being discharged when this was all occurring. This is starting like in August of ‘80—‘90—August of ’90. And then I had the recuperation time, and this that and the other.

Then Major Pizell[?]—the colonel does his spot, Major Pizell does his spot, on down like that. Well, Major Pizell called me in and he said, "Captain Bray," he said, "I want to tell you something." He said, "I have refused to obey Colonel Liebe’s orders in your write-up." He said, "I think that you have done an outstanding job, and I’m going to put it in this OER." He said, "So this OER is going to cause some red flags," because you’ve got a battalion-level colonel saying one thing about me, and now you have a battalion-level major saying the direct opposite about me.

And I told him I said, "Well, I appreciate that. I really do."

And by this time I was just kind of getting fed up with everything, and I accepted the medical discharge. And I got a call. I was at home and I got a call from the commanding general of Fort Benning, Georgia. And he said, "Captian Bray," he said, "I under—I have an OER on my desk right now that I’m not very happy with."

And I said, "I’m sure you’re not." I said, "I know, I read the OER myself." I said, "I had to sign it." I said, "The only thing I can tell you is that I would believe what the major said over what the colonel said."

He said, "Captain Bray," he said, "I think there’s been a great injustice done here and I want you to know you have a right to appeal this OER and you can get your commission back in the military."

And I was like [sighs]. I just thought and thought and I just told him, I said, "Sir, you know I hate to say this, but I know I can appeal that OER and I know I could get my commission back and et cetera, et cetera." I said, "But at this point in my life I’m just very tired." It had hit me at this point of what all had been happen—or had transpired over the year or more. And I just said, "No, I think I’ll just stay out."

And he said, "Okay." He said, "I don’t agree with it, but if that’s your wishes then I’ll go along with it."

So that was it. I was a free person, civilian. I got medically discharged.

TS:

How old were you then, Linda?

LB:

Thirty-one. Thirty-one years old. I had my medical discharge. Now today looking back, I would’ve accepted the commander’s advice and I would’ve appealed that OER and I would’ve stayed in the military. And I could’ve retired in 2003, but at the time I was in a different situation.

TS:

Right.

LB:

And so—

TS:

Well, you can’t take away all the emotion that you were going through and everything that was happening.

LB:

Oh no.

TS:

You can’t extract yourself from that.

LB:

Yeah. And with the stories that people were printing, I was just like, "You know what? One of these days I’m going to write a book. For right now, y’all can just keep printing whatever you want." I said, "But one of these days I will write a book and it will come out, and it’s going to come out to let everybody know." And I heard through the grapevine that Colonel Liebe got sent to Korea on an unaccompanied tour. I heard—

TS:

What does that mean, unaccompanied tour?

LB:

His family couldn’t go with him. They were like putting him in a not very nice place.

TS:

I see. Kind of in a vise position there.

LB:

Yeah, they were—gave him a bad assignment. And then I heard that Major Pizell retired. I said, "Man, it’s amazing all these things are happening to certain people, isn’t it?" Then I heard that the major—the operations major, he retired too. And I was like, "Hmm." Come to find out, the man, Captain Freeman, that took my command, that year, ’91, had to deploy the company back to Panama for a peacekeeping mission. And he did some things that were not allowed in the military or that was really, really bad to do, and so they made him change command in Panama. That’s how bad it was. And he was kicked out the military.

TS:

Wild story.

LB:

So afterwards I did, I went and found a writer and we started working on a book—

TS:

Yeah?

LB:

—in ’91, because based on the military pay that I had gotten for the medical discharge, it really didn’t make any sense for me to work. Well, by the time we got started on the book, [Major] Rhonda Cornum had been captured as POW in [Operation] Desert Storm. And Peter Copeland—she’d gotten freed and she was sent back to the states. And Peter Copeland contacted her and she did a book. So by the time I got around to submitting a preface, an outline, and a chapter to a publisher, they said, "Well, you’re old news. She’s the new news." So she got her book printed. I lost all my deals for the purchase of a book or anything like that. So that’s it. I just haven’t done it. And every now and then I’ll hear from somebody and they’ll say, "Did you write that book yet?"

TS:

Yeah. I think that’s a—

LB:

I’ll say, "No I haven’t wrote that book yet."

And they’re like, "We still think it’s a good idea for you to write that book."

But just over time, with a lot of the stuff I have forgotten or got mixed up, you know, it would just—it would take me a long time to go back through things to get it all back in order. So I don’t know.

And to this day my first sergeant, he still sends me emails. We’re in contact. We’ve stayed in contact.

TS:

Who was that?

LB:

Sergeant Ijames, I-j-a-m-e-s. And we had such a welcoming back party. And when I changed commands, they allowed like the platoon sergeant or several people that wanted to make comments, they allowed them to come up and say good or bad comments about me or whatever. And they all said good things about me—that, you know, they were sorry to see what was going on because they knew, they knew what was going on, and that they really hated it that—that somebody could actually treat me that way. So my first sergeant still today emails me, and we send emails back and forth. He lives in Salisbury, I’m in Winston-Salem. And Sergeant Nelson, we’re still all in contact. And my first sergeant still emails me today and he says, "No man could’ve done a better job." I had another one of my NCOs, Sergeant Hanna, he found me, and he wrote me. And he said—on the email he said, "Is this the Captain Bray that was the commander of the 988th MP Company?"

And I wrote him back and I said, "It’s the ex-company commander of the 988th MP Company, and yes, you have found me." You know, "What are you up to? Where are you at? What have you been doing? You know, how are your wife and kids?" because I knew his wife and kids and everything.

He emailed me back. He was an E7 [sergeant first class] now. He was getting ready to retire. And how many kids he had, I think he was at three kids, and that he was getting ready—he was a dog handler. He was still a dog handler, and he was getting ready to retire and they were moving to Upper State New York, and he was going to take a civilian job. And he said, "Oh, by the way," he said, "you will always be my company commander."

I was like "Aw!" You know, it’s like one of those "Aw!" makes you want to cry.

TS:

Well, I’ve got your contact information from Mark Patterson.

LB:

Yes.

TS:

Well, what was his—I don’t really know—because I haven’t talked to him [unclear].

LB:

He’s a—what he did is I guess he Googled my name. He found my website and he went in as—he filled out the information, like a lead for me.

TS:

Oh, okay.

LB:

Here I am thinking I’m getting a lead for a buyer or a seller, you know, through my website. And then all of a sudden it says you know—what was?—he goes, "No, I’m not looking for a realtor." He said, "I want to know if this is Captain Bray from the 988th MP Company. Can you send me your information?"

So I had his email address so I emailed him back. I was like, "You’re going to have to give me a little more info—you’re going to have to tell me a little bit more about yourself, because I am old and I am forgetting things." And I said "tell me something that’s going to make me—you know, make it click in my mind."

And so he was really funny. He kind of emailed me back and he said—I can’t remember what he said really, but it was like he was one of the soldiers that crawled down in the ditch with me that night. And I was like, "Okay." But I’m sorry to this day I still don’t remember. I couldn’t tell you what he looks like, but I just emailed him back and said, "Oh yeah. Okay," you know. I told him what I was doing now and what had happened over the years.

And then he emailed me back and he said, "Have you wrote that book yet?"

TS:

That’s right. That’s what I was supposed to ask you, if you’d written that book yet.

LB:

And I said, "No." I emailed him back. I told him, I said, "No, I have not written the book yet."

And he said that he had a friend in the Greensboro area that was doing some work on the history of women [in the military], and he said, "I told her about you. She’s real excited. She wants to talk to you. Can I give her your information?"

And I said, "Oh, by all—" you know, I wrote him—emailed him back, "by all means, give her my information. Here’s my home number. Here’s my cell number." I said, "Tell her to feel free to give me a call anytime." So then I was like, "Okay," and then I got the email from you.

TS:

Okay.

LB:

And then I don’t know, there was a big long—

TS:

Yeah, we had a gap between.

LB:

Yeah, there was a big gap.

TS:

We had to wait to start.

LB:

Yeah, there was a big gap—long gap and so—

TS:

Well, let me ask you a couple questions kind of generalizing some things. You’ve actually answered quite a few of these—actually quite a lot. Do you think that—so just in the story that you’ve told about Panama and, you know, the circumstances of you getting out and the pressure you kind of felt then, do you feel—how do you feel you were treated, really? Do you feel you were treated fairly in that whole—the way that that came out?

LB:

No. No. I know I wasn’t treated fairly. I don’t feel it. Matter of fact, I’ve got something here that [Brigadier] General [Wilma L.] Vaught, the president of the women’s memorial in Washington, D.C., she says. "There’s—" she starts talking and she says, "a modest army military police captain became the first American woman to lead troops into combat and reaffirmed a long tradition of American women being ready when the nation needed them. Having earned—" let’s see, she goes into something else, and then she goes back to women that actually played roles in World War I, women who played roles in World War II when it was the WAC [Women’s Army] Corps and the WAVES [Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service—U.S. Navy].

TS:

Right.

LB:

And then she just kind of addresses how women start becoming more involved in the protection of the nation. And I had something that I thought of for Senator Palin that I would’ve liked to have gotten to her campaign or her speechwriter.

TS:

To Governor [Sarah] Palin, you mean?

LB:

Yeah, governor. I’m sorry, Governor Palin. Is that I was going to go back and say, "Hey, you know, she could use me if she wanted to. She could say, you know, ‘In 1990 we had the report of the first female to lead troops in combat. Don’t you think it’s time we need a female in the White House?’" Yeah, I was going to do something like that, you know, because I was like that would be a killer right there. You know, it would be so awesome, everybody would be going, "You know what, it’s been eighteen years? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." But I told my husband, I said, "We’re just—we’re getting set up. At some time there’s going to be a female in the White House. Sometime."

But this was what they did for me on one of the calendars. They came out to my house and took a picture of me and my dog, and they utilized—

TS:

What year is this?

LB:

This is—what year is this?—2000.

TS:

Okay, 2000.

LB:

Okay, this was in 2000. And they took a picture of me and my dog and everything and they did a little story. And it says here, "So to historians the controversy which erupted in December 1989, after a twenty-nine-year-old Captain Linda Bray, commander of the 988th MP Company, led troops into a firefight in Panama during Operation Just Cause seemed uninformed at best. ‘The kennel of military attack dogs was heavily defended. It was an important military operation,’ White House Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told the nation. ‘A woman led it and she did an outstanding job.’ That a woman had led troops into combat made Captain Bray the focus of so much debate, she ultimately resigned her commission costing the army two trained professionals. Her West Point-educated husband also resigned. The combat exclusion laws were repealed after American women once again proved their mettle in Desert Storm, but the debate on women’s roles in combat is still ongoing." This was in 2000.

TS:

So your husband resigned also?

LB:

Yes.

TS:

Did he do that like in solidarity with you for the way you were treated, you think?

LB:

It was—well, you have to remember in the military at that time, in addition to Desert Storm going on, the RIF—which is a Reduction in Force—was starting to come about. And so with what all had happened to me and what, you know, my husband had to go through and this, that, and the other, he said—because they had called me before I even got out of the—before I even changed command, they called me. My advisor at the Pentagon called me and he said, "Captain Bray, we already have your next assignment ready. You’re going to be reassigned to such-and-such recruiting command in San Francisco, California."

I’m like, "You’re giving me a command again?" You know, "In California?"

And the guy’s like, "Yeah." He said—he said, "We’re going to make a poster of you."

And I told my husband that and he said, "Nope." He said, "I know you’re out," he said, "and I know what happened was wrong." He said, "Everybody has told you what happened was wrong and that you could still be in the military."

I said "But you know what?" Both of us, we look back and we say, you know, we both probably could’ve stayed. But at the time it just wasn’t worth it and he was ready to go too. He was sick and tired of it.

TS:

How long had he been in?

LB:

Twelve years. But with seeing this all that had happened and then his company deploying to Desert Storm, and he had to stay behind because he was scheduled to PCS out of the army, and his colonel asked him if he would stay, if he would stay long enough to take command of the headquarters of the rear detachment while the company went to Desert Storm. And my husband agreed to do that for whatever period of time that was. And so when the company came back from Desert Storm, then the colonel went ahead and signed his PCS orders for him to get out.

TS:

Did he—did your husband also go to Panama?

LB:

No.

TS:

So—

LB:

No. That’s where—you could only imagine what my husband and I have been through.

TS:

Oh, no kidding.

LB:

Ultimately [shuffling papers] it was bad for he and I. It put a lot of stress—

TS:

Yeah.

LB:

—on us, and it put a lot of stress on him.

TS:

What are we looking at? What’s this?

LB:

It’s a story that was in Star Magazine. It says, "Tree climbing tomboy grows up to be America’s first woman to lead troops into combat. And while she was in a gunfight, her army hubby was holding the fort at home." Now, my husband was infantry ranger master parachutist.

TS:

Right.

LB:

He was dogged by people in his company. They were calling him "Mrs. Captain Bray." I mean they were just dogging him out, and different things were going on. But this was the picture that when the colonel asked me—

TS:

Oh right.

LB:

—if he was going to have to, you know, bring charges against me for disobeying an order. This is what the picture was taken.

TS:

I see.

LB:

And I was like—meanwhile, they had already came into my house, they had already gotten pictures out of my high school.

TS:

Did you know that these pictures were taken at the time that you—?

LB:

No. No, I had no idea none of this was going on. I had no idea! This is me and my mom and dad when I got my commission. This is me standing in our front yard with my dog Lucky at my husband and I’s first house. I had no idea this was going on. I had everybody saving this stuff and sending it to me and all kinds of stuff. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, my poor parents. They’re probably freaking—just totally freaking out."

TS:

Well, would you do it all over again?

LB:

Probably yeah. Yeah, probably so. But I—it was great when I first got a call home and say hey to everybody, because by that time my husband was just like, "You told me you weren’t going to be anywhere near—you told me you were going to be on the other side of the country and blah, blah, blah!" and he’s just going.

And I’m like "I’m sorry! I couldn’t tell you! I couldn’t tell you! I couldn’t tell you and I couldn’t tell my parents that I knew before I went. I knew what was going to happen."

TS:

Right.

LB:

And so when I talked to—I did work for [the Department of] Homeland Security in training the screeners and all the new—the new federal employees. I was telling them how important it was to keep information sensitive. And I said, "I’m going to tell you how serious I am about it is: Before I went to Panama, I knew it, but I could never let it on to my husband or my mother or my father. I couldn’t let it on to anybody. I had to keep that information to myself. The only one that knew was my first sergeant and he knew it from the look on my face when I came back from the emergency operation center. That was it." So—

TS:

So what do you think about now? I mean, because now we’re—we’re on the War on Terror, we have a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, and women are pretty—

LB:

—much everywhere.

TS:

Yeah. What are your thoughts on all that?

LB:

Well I don’t like to see people get killed, but at the same time I think it’s great [that women are serving]. I think that with the start, or with my start, things have gotten better over the years. That maybe—I did a speech for women’s history month, and my speech I wrote it myself, and it was called—it was "Professionalism versus Personalism." And I said I didn’t even know if that was such a word. But you know the Virginia Slims ad was "We’ve come a long way, baby." I think we still have a long way to go. And I cannot wait to see what the future holds. But the only way that we as women are going to continue into the future, into the military and get things done, is that we’re going to have to fight against people who utilize their personal beliefs and their personal feelings to pass professional judgment on women in the military. I said, "We need to work in that direction. And if we can, then hopefully what has happened to me will not happen to anybody else—any other female in the military—and that it will be an eye opener for a lot of men out there," you know. So I’m just—I’m glad. It seems like we have come a long way, and we’re going. We’re still going. We’re still going.

TS:

Would you say that the military changed you in any way?

LB:

Yes, I would. Because I still get it today, even though I’ve been out of the military seventeen years—I was just, matter of fact, told this yesterday—they said—this lady didn’t—doesn’t know a whole lot about me, but I work for the equine rescue in the Triad. And I was talking to this lady, and she doesn’t know much about me, but she looked at me and she said, "You were military."

I said, "Yeah, I was." I said, "There’s something—I mean there’s just something there that when you get it, you got it, and you can’t really get rid of it. It’s just something that’s there."

And people all the time they just look at me and go, "You were military."

And I’m just like, "Yes, I was."

And you know it’s so funny, my husband and I are doing the ushering at church, and now I’ve got it where all four of the ushers walk in line up to the front and [TS laughs] to turn around and start collecting money. And so my husband’s like, "You are such a nut."

I said, "No. But don’t it look cool when all four of us are together walking up, you know?" And I said, "There’s just some things you can’t get rid of."

TS:

That’s pretty funny. Would you say that when you—as far as being independent and things like that—do you think you were independent before you went in the military? Did it help you become more independent minded?

LB:

I was independent before I went in the military. That I do know, because I had an agenda. I knew where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, what field I wanted to go, so I was—I had everything all lined up. And in the military—matter of fact, I told Jamie, my dad’s friend that helped commission me, I said, "You know what, wouldn’t it be nice if I become the first general—you know, female general—in the army?" I had high hopes, high ambitions. I just—I don’t know. But with what was happening and what was going on, all of that got killed, you know. And when that happens to you, that’s pretty devastating to you. And then you’re sitting there going, "Oh my gosh. I’ve got to start all over again. What am I going to do?" You know? It was pretty hard for me.

TS:

How long do you think it took you to get on your feet after you got out?

LB:

Well, I think with—I think I was having—and my husband told me—I mean, it was not good, because I think my family told me that I was going through post traumatic stress syndrome, and my husband was wanting me to get psychological help. Because there would be things that I saw that I would dream about and, you know, I’d just wake up, or I’ll be shouting stuff in my sleep, and—or I would just say things or do things that were not normal for me to do, you know? And so that was putting stress on our marriage also.

And then I think at some point, probably about a year and a half after I had been out, things started to get back to normal, if I can say that. I started being myself again instead of being somebody else, you know. But yeah, I went through a period of where I wasn’t really myself. So when that got over with, of course, our life—mine and Randy’s life—got a lot better. We actually even talked about having family, and by mother nature, for some reason, my tubes were blocked. And by this time Randy and I had been together like seven, eight years. And we just decided that if that’s the way it was, then that was the way it was intended to be. I was intended not to have children. So we were—we’ve been happy all of our lives with the four-legged kinds.

TS:

Yeah, I see the dog pictures. Those are great.

LB:

We’ve been happy all of our lives with the four-legged kind.

TS:

Yeah. Well now what is your thoughts—if you were to say—because you said something in the beginning about being patriotic. But what do you think patriotism is [phone rings] to you? What is it to you?

LB:

This is my husband.

TS:

I guess we’ll pause.

[recording paused]

LB:

I—

TS:

Wait. Let me start you up. Okay, go ahead.

LB:

You asked me about patriotism?

TS:

Right.

LB:

My husband and I both, we still have a lot. We carry the flag. We have the flag everywhere. We have the flag on our house. I am so glad that they passed a bill that now you can still salute the flag during the national anthem. Before, you know, if you were a civilian you put your hand over your heart, but now they said that prior service people can actually still salute the flag. So it’s like, "Yea!" You know, it’s all over, you still have it. [laughter] You don’t get rid of it.

TS:

There you go.

LB:

But this was the start of the book, and I didn’t like the tone that it was going in. I didn’t want it to be negative, because I wanted it to be a positive thing in that it would be—it would make everyone that was with me proud. But the co-author that I had, she was very femin—woman activist. And so the tone of it was concentrating more on what the military had done to me professionally versus what the company, the 988th MP Company, did. And I wanted it to stay with what the 988th MP Company did, because everyone there participated and everyone there should be proud of themselves. So I stopped the halt of the book. And that’s probably the reason why I haven’t wrote the book yet, is because I would just like to—

TS:

But it wouldn’t have been the book you wanted.

LB:

Right, it would not.

TS:

Yeah. So that makes sense.

LB:

Yeah. I didn’t want it to be a negative thing. I wanted it to be a positive.

TS:

Well, is there anything—and I know—what we can do with that scrapbook is when we’re done we can go through it and then talk—and I’ll just turn it on and let you talk about it. But is there anything that you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you about that maybe you might want to say to somebody who maybe doesn’t understand the military, or doesn’t under—you know, that you would just like to say to anybody that’s listening to this.

LB:

I’d like to see—make sure that people understand that I did receive the combat patch. I did not receive the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the reason is because I was not infantry. And since then they now have a combat badge—a combat pin award for people who are in other—

TS:

Outside of infantry?

LB:

Outside of infantry. They have an award now for those people who are going into combat, and so everybody can get their own award, so to say. And I’m glad that happened. I’m really glad it happened, because everybody that does—I don’t care if you’re a personnel person or a mechanic or field artillery, whatever, I don’t care—but everybody deserves to have that recognition that, hey, you know what, you’ve done something. You’ve done something special. So I’m glad that everybody has it today. And I hope that from the—what I initiated back then, I hope that that is what has driven this change in the military from the nineties to way into the future, the 2000s. I hope that helped.

TS:

Great. Well, thank you for talking to me today. It’s been a pleasure.

LB:

You’re welcome. You’re welcome. It gives me a trip.

[Discussion of Bray’s scrapbook not transcribed.]

[End of Interview]