Brittany Gordon was a 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst when an Afghan suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest under his military uniform in Kandahar province, killing her instantly and adding her name to the growing ranks of female American service members killed in the line of duty.
Gordon, of St. Petersburg, Fla., died Oct. 13, 2012, along with five others, when a delegation including U.S. coalition members was delivering furniture to an intelligence office in a remote area of Kandahar. She was on her first deployment to Afghanistan and had volunteered for the mission that ended in her death.
“Brittany had a contagious passion for helping and protecting those less fortunate than she,” her mother, Brenda Thompson Gordon, told FoxNews.com. “Not only was her contribution to protect the freedom that we enjoy, but it was to empower women to lead and have confidence in themselves.
“She was very special. I am so proud of her,” Gordon said. “She led by example with a cheerful confidence. There are givers and there are takers and she was definitely a giver. She volunteered for this.
“She was my only child,” she added, fighting back tears. “The hardest part is when you put everything into one child and it’s all gone.”
Gordon was one of 44 U.S. servicewomen killed in Afghanistan since the conflict began there in 2001. Another 335 female soldiers have been wounded.
"Not only was her contribution to protect the freedom that we enjoy, but it was to empower women to lead and have confidence in themselves."
- Brenda Thompson Gordon, mother of Spc. Brittany Gordon
The number of female casualties has risen as more women, like Gordon, join the U.S. military in combat roles alongside their male counterparts.
According to the U.S. government, 110 female U.S. soldiers died in Iraq and another 636 were wounded. Fifteen were killed in the Persian Gulf War, which began in 1990.
Eight women were killed in the Vietnam War, two in the Korean War, 543 in World War II and 359 in World War I – although all those women served in non-combat roles, mostly as nurses assisting soldiers in battlefields.
Women were first allowed to serve in non-combat positions in 1901. It was almost a century later, in the early 1990s, that they were allowed to enter combat units.
But they were restricted from the front lines after the Pentagon ruled they could not serve in artillery, armor, infantry and other similar roles.
That ban, however, was overturned in January 2013, when the Defense Department announced women were now permitted to serve in front-line combat positions.
While it took centuries for the U.S. government to formally approve women in combat roles, females have served unofficially on the battlefield since the American Revolution.
Margaret Corbin assisted her husband, artilleryman John Corbin, and 600 American troops in defending Fort Washington in Northern Manhattan from a fleet of British soldiers on Nov. 16, 1776.
When her husband was fatally wounded, Corbin took over and fired his cannon from the top of a ridge, today known as Fort Tryon. Corbin, who was severely wounded in the battle, later became the first woman in American history to receive a pension from Congress for her service in the military.