First Female Soldier of the Year

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http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/342730_soldier08.html

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]Seattle soldier proves to be best of the best[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]Combat medic is first woman to win the special military honor in Army Forces Command[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]Last updated December 7, 2007 11:33 p.m. PT[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]By MIKE BARBER[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial,Helvetica]P-I REPORTER[/FONT]
For all the achievements 23-year-old Jamiell Goforth of Seattle has won since leaving a promising dance career in Seattle to become an Army combat medic, one stands out.
It was the year she spent in Taji, Iraq, where vehicles and medics rushed wounded and injured U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilians to her aid station.
soldier08.jpg
Sgt. Jamiell Goforth left a dance career for the Army.
"We saved lives; we didn't lose anybody," Goforth said with a mixture of emotion and pride.
"Seeing some of those injuries and people trusting you, with their lives literally in your hands, makes you grow up; you are in charge of making sure they go home, that they get back to their families," Goforth, now based at Fort Hood, Texas, said.
It's one of the least known but more significant achievements in the young Army career of Jamiell Elizabeth Goforth, who earlier this year survived grueling physical and mental tests of endurance and skill against other soldiers to become the first female "Soldier of the Year" from U.S. Army Forces Command. It is the Army's largest major command and comprises more than 730,000 soldiers.
In the three years since she joined the Army, Goforth has helped conduct rescues during Hurricane Katrina, graduated from the Army's expert field medic school, rose to the rank of sergeant and received the Meritorious Service Medal.
Goforth graduated from Summit High School in 2002. She attended the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, was class president, an honor student and concert dance company captain for three years. In 2000, she was accepted to the professional division of New York's acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.
After high school, college didn't seem "the right thing at the time," Goforth said. She wanted to help people, save lives and belong to something bigger than herself, so she enlisted.
She said her years in the performing arts, working literally in the spotlight, helped her as a soldier in tough situations and as a woman in the Army.
"My parents raised me to never let anyone discourage me from pursuing my dreams; that attitude carries forward with how I deal with being female in the military," she said. Her parents are Julia Goforth and Rodney Kreps of Seattle and John Goforth of Eugene, Ore.
Goforth, who recently re-enlisted, served in Iraq from the fall of 2005 to November 2006.
The 24-hour medical aid station in Taji provided ample experience in medicine. It received casualties from "outside the gate," treated sick and wounded U.S. soldiers and stabilized the most seriously wounded for transportation to a larger hospital in Baghdad.
Goforth recalls those around her there as an "eclectic mix": Iraqis, soldiers from Estonia and other European countries, an Italian medevac pilot.
There were, however, no Arabic translators.
"That made it interesting," Goforth deadpans, recalling the difficulty in acquiring backgrounds for Iraqi workers and civilians from elsewhere in the Middle East.
Competing for a Soldier of the Year was not as life changing as serving in the aid station. But the competition was no picnic.
Soldiers who take part are considered the best of the best.
Those who earned titles excelled at grueling challenges in soldiering.
Challenges last summer included physical-fitness endurance in extreme humidity, hand-to-hand combat, a 12-mile road march and conducting navigation during fierce rain, Goforth said.
At the end with scarcely a few hours sleep, Goforth and the others had to keep their wits about them while field stripping weapons and answering written essays and tests as well as questions from an oral review board.
The 13 competitors last summer had earned top honors in lower units before emerging to represent each Army command. That baker's dozen competed last summer for the ultimate honor, U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, at Fort Lee, Va.
Goforth didn't win the all-Army honor but was an impressive finalist.
The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch chronicled competition one day during a "detainee-treatment" scenario, when each soldier was evaluated for his or her response to an actor wearing a black turban who was believed to be wearing an explosive vest.
A male Army corporal opting for a direct approach slammed the actor to the earth, using his teeth to quickly tighten a set of plastic handcuffs, the paper reported.
Goforth bested the competition in that scenario. She was less forceful, first waving and giving the Arabic greeting "salaam aleikum," beckoning the man away from three friends, the paper said.
She remained firm but respectful using graduated levels of force, voice hardening when needed to keep the situation under control.
"It's so important to us not to overdo it when it comes to taking prisoners," she recalls, noting the scandal surrounding U.S. treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.
Goforth's achievements drew the attention of an ROTC program officer at Viterbo University in Wisconsin. Goforth has an offer of four years of free college worth about $60,000 through the university's ROTC program.
There is a hitch, however.
"There's a possibility of another deployment for me before I can start school, in the new 15-month (deployment) format," Goforth says.
"I plan on taking the scholarship, (but) I am a soldier first."

P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or mikebarber@seattlepi.com.
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