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Army Says Female MP Rushed to Scene When Firing Started

January 8, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Military officials said Monday a female captain widely praised for leading a unit into combat in Panama was a half-mile away at the start of the fight but gave the critical orders and rushed to the scene when the firing started.

On Saturday, The Los Angeles Times had published a story that the Army was saying news accounts of Capt. Linda Bray’s involvement in the battle - at a Panamanian Defense Forces kennel - ″later repeated by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, were grossly exaggerated.″

In an interview Monday, Gen. William McClain said Capt. Bray had been in her tactical command center, directing her troops by radio, and that she went to the scene of the battle as soon as she was aware fighting had broken out.

″Her job was to direct her forces and to accomplish her objective and that’s what she did. ... If she’s in radio contact, and gave the order for the warning shot to be fired, that’s leading your troops,″ McClain said.

Capt. Bray’s involvement as commander of the 988th Military Police Company got front-page attention last week, based on accounts from Panama followed by Fitzwater’s praise at the White House. President Bush spoke Friday of her ″heroic performance.″

″Three PDF men were killed,″ Fitzwater said last Wednesday when questioned about the incident by reporters. ″Gunshots were fired on both sides. American troops could have been killed. It was an important military operation. A woman led it, and she did an outstanding job. ...

″Be clear that from the first day that a woman was appointed to that position, it was understood she would carry out those responsibilities and women have done it well. So there,″ Fitzwater said.

The incident prompted calls for the removal of restrictions on women in combat, and Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said she would propose legislation to that end.

Various news accounts, including one carried by The Associated Press, quoted soldiers as saying Capt. Bray had led her unit into battle, storming the gates of the kennel in an armored jeep.

Army officials now say no bodies were found after the incident.

News accounts of the battle’s duration have ranged from a half-hour or so up to three hours. An account of the incident released by the Pentagon runs from 1 a.m. until daylight, but doesn’t directly address the exact time of the firefight.

Pentagon spokeswoman Army Maj. Kathy Wood made available a description of the mission involving Capt. Bray, which states that she ordered a warning shot to be fired 30 seconds after a Spanish-speaking U.S. officer announced over a loudspeaker that the occupants of the PDF barracks should surrender.

The captain then ordered machine-gun fire against the side of the building, away from its occupants, and the PDF then fired on the military police unit, the account said.

After the Spanish-speaking officer used the loudspeaker to bluff that the military police had artillery, the PDF forces retreated from the building and continued to fire at the MPs from a nearby wooded area, the account said. Capt. Bray ordered flares to light the area and then ordered that her officers clear the area around the building, it said.

The area was declared more secure at daylight and Capt. Bray’s troops were ordered to pull back, the account said.

At one point, Maj. Wood added, Capt. Bray ordered the driver of her armored jeep to run over the barracks’ gate so that she could get closer to her troops.

″She ordered a warning shot to be fired. ... She ordered machine gun fire, she moved forward when she heard that her troops had experienced fire,″ Maj. Wood said.

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