Kentucky women veterans share heroic tales
Army veteran Ashley Hawkins, 38, will never forget the Palm Sunday in 2005 when her squad came under attack in Iraq.
Then 20 years old, her job was to drive Humvees with military police teams to ensure the safety of convoys. She traveled across Baghdad 16 hours a day looking for improvised explosive devices.
“You don’t have time to think,” she says. “You get up and do your job all day. I had one 11-day stretch without any sleep.”
On the day of the attack, her squad— three vehicles, each carrying three MPs—pulled to a side road to draw fire and protect their convoy. She jumped out and returned fire, then got a call from medic Jason Mike, who was in the vehicle behind her.
“Everybody is down,” Mike said. “I need help.”
Hawkins climbed into her Humvee, backed it up to Mike’s vehicle, then got out and assessed the injuries of the team. Gunner William Haynes from Paducah was shot in the hand; driver Brian Mack of Bowling Green was shot in the shoulder, suffering internal injuries; and team leader Joseph Rivera of Shepherdsville was screaming on the ground in pain.
“I was the only one in the position to help,” she says. “So, I did.”
In commemoration of Veterans Day 2022, Kentucky Living salutes Hawkins and more than 24,000 women veterans in the state. This is the story of three women veterans who participated in Kentucky’s first all-female Honor Flight in June and helped lead the way for the next generation of women to serve.
Hawkins’ service defines heroic determination.
Faced with three injured soldiers, she gave Rivera her rifle and ran back to her vehicle for medical supplies, then returned to put pressure on Rivera’s wound.
Another Humvee pulled up and she told the driver to get a medevac. Hawkins helped load the injured into the Humvee to take them to a helicopter landing zone. When the chopper arrived, she helped get them aboard, including Rivera, who was going into shock. Miraculously, all three lived.
In recognition of her actions during the battle, Hawkins became the first woman in U.S. military history awarded the Bronze Star with valor.
Hawkins, who lives in Harrodsburg with her husband and five children, is a consumer-member of Inter-County Energy. If given the choice, she says she would do it all over again.
“Was I scared? Most likely,” she says, “but there were three people’s lives saved.”
Glasgow’s Joanne Fry was in the third class of women to attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
During her first year at Annapolis, articles were being published arguing that women did not belong at the service academies.
“I’d be in class and look around, and I’m the only woman,” she says. “Our summer white uniforms looked like stewardess uniforms.”
After graduation in 1982, Fry went to Hawaii as a naval intelligence member of an anti-submarine aircraft patrol known as the Blue Sharks. She deployed twice to the Philippines and traveled to Singapore and Korea.
Three years later, she transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C., left the Navy and eventually pursued a career in teaching that would span three decades. Fry taught in Florida, Georgia and in Kentucky at Glasgow High School. Her family returned to Glasgow in 2020.
Fry, a consumer-member of Farmers RECC, also served 15 years as a Blue and Gold Officer, helping guide young people through the Naval Academy’s admissions process. She says she has received touching letters of thanks from some of them.
“A few years back, I went to the 40th anniversary gathering of women at the service academies,” she says, “and I thought, ‘I was an OK naval officer, but I did something that helped open the doors for women who came afterward.’”
Following a dream
Ever since eighth grade, South Kentucky RECC consumer-member Melissa Ramsey dreamed of joining the military. She lived with her mom in Houston and joined Junior ROTC to prepare.
After enlisting in 1988, Ramsey began an Army career that would span 27 years and see her rise to the rank of major.
After basic training, she focused on hospital administration and got her first duty assignment as a patient administration specialist at a hospital near Huntsville, Alabama.
“I knew after my first assignment that I was going to stay in the military and retire,” she says.
Ramsey spent nearly five years at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, where she finished her bachelor’s degree in business, then transferred to Fort Campbell and was accepted to the Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). After completing OCS, she was commissioned as a finance officer.
After 9/11, the Army deployed her to Pakistan on a top-secret mission that lasted half a year. But she got the toughest job of her career when she was deployed to Iraq for 15 months—three months longer than most deployments— as the detachment commander of 30 finance soldiers.
They lived in northern Iraq in Mosul, supporting 15,000 soldiers, contractors and civilians during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Continuous firefights and bombings off base kept the soldiers on high alert. Despite a close call when a rocket-propelled grenade hit close to their building, Ramsey’s entire detachment made it out of Iraq safely.
Her command awarded her the Bronze Star, but she credits her officers and soldiers for their results.
“We did what we had to do and came back,” she says. “I felt I didn’t deserve the Bronze Star, but I’m grateful.”
After arriving back in Texas in 2009, Ramsey finished her master’s degree and transferred to Fort Knox—closer to her husband’s hometown of Monticello, so they could prepare for her 2014 retirement.
Today, she leads the Junior ROTC program at Clinton County High School, where she helps up to 50 young people reach for their dreams, just as she did many years ago.
“Even though I know I made the right decision to retire,” she says, “I miss the military every day.”
Honor Flight reunites two longtime Army friends
Sometimes destiny finds a way.
That certainly seemed the case when longtime Army veterans—Nolin RECC consumer-member Dana Currier and Louisville native Stachia Davis—found each other by accident in Lexington 35 years after their Advanced Individual Training.
Their reunion occurred the morning of June 11, when both arrived at Blue Grass Airport to participate in Kentucky’s first all-female Honor Flight.
With hundreds of people walking around the terminal and 134 veterans checking in, it would have been easy for the two to have missed one another. Both had different last names than when they were in the service, and they looked different than when they were teenagers who joined the Army.
As Currier stood in line for breakfast, Davis walked by from the opposite direction and stopped.
Stunned, Currier looked at her: “Stachia?”
After they hugged, Davis told her old friend, “I recognize you by your eyes. You have those beautiful eyes.”
It had been 35 years since their time in training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and their first duty station at Fort Lewis, Washington, where they were friends and next-door neighbors.
“We went through the exact same stuff, knew the same drill sergeants,” Currier says. “It was a huge bonding experience, and we got close. We looked for apartments together and moved into the same apartment complex. I could walk out of mine and knock on her door.”
Davis served in Alaska, California, Kentucky and Maryland. She left the Army in 1992 and now lives in Cheltenham, Maryland. She works in Washington, D.C., for the chief administrator of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Currier served nearly 32 years in the Army, including service in Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa and Alabama, and a deployment to Iraq. She retired from the Army in 2018 and lives in Radcliff.
Now that they have reconnected, they plan to stay in touch. Both say they will cherish their chance reunion and touring the memorials in Washington, D.C., during Honor Flight.
“A bunch of emotions flooded my soul,” Davis says about the reunion. “Happy, surprised, relieved and loved.”
Currier says going on the Honor Flight with friends and other veterans was unforgettable.
“That was one of the most amazing and emotional events I have ever been on,” she says.