Army Specialist Five Karen Irene Offutt

| December 9, 2014

Karen Irene Offutt

I learn an awful lot from blogging. When I was a young NCO, I learned that the best way to learn how accomplish a task is to teach it, because of the stuff you learn from preparing your classes. So, it is with blogging, I suppose. Doug Sterner emailed us another phony yesterday who happened to be a female and she claimed that she had earned a Soldiers Medal. I mentioned to Doug that I had never heard of a female who had earned a Soldiers Medal (for the uninitiated, a Soldiers Medal is awarded for heroism while not engaged with an armed enemy). Doug straightened me right out and sent me this list of women who had been awarded the Soldiers Medal;

Stephenson, Orah D. World War II
Donaldson, John J. World War II
Atwood, Pauline A. Vietnam War
Roberts, Laurel V. Vietnam War
Sperry, Deborah R. Vietnam War
Picard, Carol Y. Vietnam War
Bolling, Wilma F. Vietnam War
Wills, Marilyn War on Terrorism
Cruz-Cortes, Roxane War on Terrorism

But, there was one missing, SP5 Karen Irene Offutt. Her story;

“We were on the second floor of an old hotel. Across the alleyway were a series of Vietnamese shanties, made of beer cans and thatch roofs. A bamboo-type awning extended across all the houses. That awning was on fire, and [Vietnamese] were running around trying to salvage their things. I ran down and pulled some women and children out. I was barefoot and burned my feet. I don’t remember much. Eventually, the fire department showed up.”

Offutt doesn’t feel she did anything especially heroic, and remembers with more clarity that she wrote home about the incident, and her mother organized churches and neighbors to collect clothes and send them to Vietnam for the children. Offutt was surprised when she was called to MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) and informed that the Hamlet Chief had written a letter commending her for saving numerous lives, and that she was to be awarded the Soldier’s Medal. Then, on 24 January, officials told Offutt that women were not awarded Soldier’s Medals; instead, Offutt was presented with a Certificate of Achievement for Heroic Action. “I wasn’t really upset at not getting it [the Soldier’s Medal] because I did what anybody should have done anyway.”


On April 7, 2001, at Medard Park, east of Tampa, Florida, Karen Offutt was finally presented the Soldier’s Medal she had earned thirty-one years earlier in Vietnam. A guest speaker at The Moving Wall, she was presented the medal in a surprise ceremony by a representative of Congressman Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla)

The official citation reads:

(Then) Specialist Five, United States Army for heroism not involving actual conflict with an armed enemy: Specialist Karen I. Offutt, Women’s Army Corps, United States Army, assigned to Headquarters Military Assistance Command Vietnam, J47, distinguished herself by heroic action on 24 January 1970 while in an off-duty status.

Observing a fire in Vietnamese dwellings near her quarters, she hurried to the scene to provide assistance. Without regard for her personal safety and in great danger of serious injury or death from smoke, flames, and falling debris, she assisted in rescuing several adults and children from the burning structures. Without protective clothing or shoes she repeatedly entered the buildings to lead children that had reentered their homes to safety. She continued to assist the Vietnamese residents in removing personal property and livestock, although danger increased until fire-fighting equipment and personnel arrived. Specialist Five Offutt’s heroic action reflects great credit on herself, the United States Army, and the United States mission in Vietnam.

Category: Real Soldiers

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Good to see an injustice corrected, even if 40 years late.

Well done, SP5 Offutt. Damn well done.


Thank you Jonn. Damned well done SP5 Karen Irene Offutt. You accomplished two great things. The greatest was saving the lives of those Vietnamese people that day so long ago. The other, though lesser but still highly important, you made it out of the E-4 Mafia.


I’ve gotten so cynical about posers and fakes that as I was reading, I was already coming up with smart-ass replies.


Misfire! POS phone.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised and impresses by her story. Good job SP5 Offutt!

karen offutt

Thank you all. Very kind of you!


No – thank you. What you did was both inspiring and worth recognition. Kudos.

Please visit here from time to time if you’re so inclined. It can get a bit “rough-and-tumble” at times, but having served during the 1960s I’m guessing you would probably expect that from a group of current/former military. (smile)


Good for her and good for the Army for correcting the record.

Congratulations, SP5 Offutt!


Her name sounds familiar. I do recall hearing something about this.

Glad to hear she did receive it.


Congratulations, SP5 Offutt!


Hooah! So great to see this!

Combat Historian

If Karen Offutt is reading this, I hope you will join us here at TAH as a commenter. We would love to hear some of your “war stories” from the Nam, and your moniker here can be “Ex-SP5” !

karen offutt

I just happened on this site and wondered why in the world was anyone talking about me! Lpl


Sorry, but have to call BS on tht list

Air Force Capt. Susan Galvin isn’t on the list. Four Soldier’s Medals presented for Sep 11 attack on Pentagon. The first went to Air Force Capt. Susan Galvin. According to military tradition, it is rare that an Air Force person receives a Soldier’s medal

About half of the Pentagon people involved on 9-11 were awarded soldier’s medals. Statistically at least a few of those have to be women.

Sgt. 1st Class Christine Gilson doesn’t consider herself a hero. “I did what needed to be done – a life was at stake, and I wasn’t going to let someone perish,” said Gilson, who was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing a neighbor from a house fire Nov. 6, 2005

Where I was stationed, they handed out Soldier’s medals fairly frequently and often with very little risk. I know of a soldier awarded a soldier’s medal for “rescuing” a little boy by wading in water between knee deep and waist deep.

If those two aren’t on Sterner’s list, there have to be a lot more.


This takes nothing away from Army Specialist Five Karen Irene Offutt


“There was one female cadet who interned at the American Embassy in Nairobi” when the attacks took place in the summer of 1998, Bryant says. “She was not there at the time of the blast but rushed back to help administer to the wounded and dying. For this action she was awarded the Soldier’s Medal at West Point.”

On 21 August 1999, while performing duties as a platoon sergeant with the
First Platoon 55th Military Police Company, Sergeant First Class Jeanne M.
Balcombe was killed in the line of duty at Camp Red Cloud, Republic of
Korea. Sargeant Balcombe demonstrated her absolute dedication to the safety
and well being of her soldiers by placing herself between them and an armed
gunman. Her quick thinking and selfless actions undoubtedly protected others
from harm. Sergeant Balcombe sacrified her life while upholding the finest
traditions of the Military Police Corps and Noncommissioned Officer’s Corps.
Posthumuoslt, she was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for her heroism.

When Sgt. 1st Class Darlene M. Mahoney saw a vehicle flip on Interstate 10 in Marana and catch fire, she knew someone had to help the car’s occupants – quickly. Mahoney, a Tucsonan, and another passer-by dragged the driver from the burning car, but flames kept them from rescuing the passenger in the March 4 accident. For her heroism, she received the Soldier’s Medal yesterday in a dual ceremony at the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site at Pinal Airpark near Marana.


Lt Diane M. Lindsay – first black woman to receive the Soldier’s Medal served with the 85th Evac hospital in Danang in Vietnam

Staff Sgt. Jacqueline L. Hunt [was] awarded the Department of Defense Soldier’s Medal by Maj. Gen. Alan D. Bell, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, on Aug. 22, 2008.


Martha A. Garson Michel was awarded the Soldiers Medal while assigned to the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. On April 3, 1945, she distinguished herself by heroism and courageous action in Germany. On that date, she voluntarily risked her life to evacuate patients from a burning hospital ward and helped extinguish the flames. The Soldiers Medal: Staff Sergeant Joan J. Hahnenberg, US Army (mention includes Balcombe and Offut) WWII: PFC Ford was awarded the Soldiers Medal for Heroism for risking her own life in an attempt to rescue a soldier from drowning. Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills, who is deputy chief of staff for Personnel Congressional Affairs Contact Officer at the Pentagon. She received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Public Service, Soldiers’ Medal, and Purple Heart for her heroism in leading others to safety when an airliner hijacked by terrorists struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Janine Costa-Wemhoff survived months of gruelling training in America’s roughest bootcamp. But then wept as she received the Soldiers Medal — the equivalent of the George Cross — at a ceremony in Virginia on Thursday, May 4 [2000]. The former secretary from Bromley is believed to be the first woman, and the first foreigner, to win the medal which is only awarded for an act of supreme gallantry involving personal risk to life away from the battlefield. Speaking exclusively to the News Shopper from her army base in Fort Story, Virginia, she said: “I was really nervous before the ceremony but… Read more »

Doug Sterner

Those members of the USAF would have received the Airman’s Medal, the USAF counterpart. I don’t have any of the 9/11 AMM recipients, though I do think I have most of the Army’s SM recipients. I welcome your list.

karen offutt

At the time of my getting this medal, I was told that I was the 10th woman in history to have received it. I was also told that I was the only enlisted woman in Vietnam to be awarded it. Since the records for women are poor, I’m not sure how accurate any of that is. It didn’t really matter to me.

Veritas Omnia Vincit

Nice Jonn, thanks for an informative piece and enjoyable read.


Bravo Zulu, Ms. Offutt!

Now I have a research project…women who have been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Medal.

Doug Sterner

Here’s a start for you Sparky. I only have three and suspect there may be perhaps that many again:
Name Text Date:
Campbell, Sharron Lynn June 1, 1977
Crain, Sharon Eolane June 26, 1981
Barnwell, Barbara O. June 7, 1952


Here is one:

Sgt Mentzer left safety, ran from her CH-53D to a crashed AH-1, and helped extract the badly injured copilot while exposed to burning fuel, splinters, live ordnance and other hazards. For this she was awarded the Navy Marine Corps Medal. (there are photos of her online receiving the award)

jedipsycho (Certified Space Shuttle Door Gunner)

Congrats, SP5 Offutt, and a job very well done!

karen offutt

Thank you!


If you want to read some interesting citations, take a look at the DAGO index the Army maintains. The citations to look at are the oldest by year. Gradually, as the years go by, they only list the Name of the Soldier and the award.

This is where I go to look up unit awards since folks are usually unaware of when their unit is given the award for the period they served there long after they have been transferred.