Kimberly Bratic hauled her gear up Afghan mountains. She went into areas where Taliban lived. She grieved when fellow soldiers were blown up by a suicide bomber. She missed her family for a year, and heard the worry in her sons' voices when she got the rare chance to call home.
She lay awake, thinking, "What if I don't make it home?"
The only difference between the 39-year-old single mom and the men she went on 70 missions with was their job titles.
The guys were combat infantry. She was a public affairs specialist, the person who documented their experience training Afghan military and police.
"I don't think the enemy would really know the difference if he decided to shoot," she wrote in a CNN iReport.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon was doing a 180 on its long-standing policy against putting women in combat roles. The branches have until mid-May to come up with a plan to implement the historic and controversial change in the next couple years.
"Mr. Panetta's decision is just unchecking a box," Bratic told CNN. "Because we're already out there and just as likely to get shot up."
She understands that men and women have different strengths and many women won't be able to endure the physical demands of training for combat positions.
But she's worked with several women, including female Afghan soldiers, who definitely could.
"They want it? Give them the chance to go for it," she said.
That is all the sergeant wanted when she enlisted two and a half years ago.
Despite having a master's degree in operations management and a bachelor's degree in human resource management, Bratic was struggling to find a job in northwest Ohio.
Rent was due, the bills were piling up and she had three sons to feed.
Then one evening a friend off-handedly said that she should think about the Army.
With her education, she could likely enlist as an officer, he told her.
"I thought, 'No way, not me," Bratic recalled. "But I went online and started reading all these articles and blogs about Uncle Sam wants you."
She looked up what she might potentially earn -- $3,000 a month, including hazard pay in a war zone.
"It started making sense," she said.
But convincing herself wasn't really the problem.
Letting mom go to Afghanistan
Bratic was the kind of mother who always talked reality with her sons, then 9, 10 and 18.
They hated that their mother was often gone, juggling a couple low-paying part-time jobs, including being an adjunct professor.
"They knew I was trying to pay bills," she said. "It was hard for them. They just wanted me to come home and have family time and I just couldn't."
So she sat them down and together they looked at the websites of the National Guard and the Navy.
They just played around a bit, watched the slick videos that look so cool.