'Ice Lady' does vital job for soldiers near front WAR IN THE GULF

February 24, 1991|By New York Times News Service

IN SAUDI ARABIA -- Her superiors refuse to describe her assignment, but they will confirm that Sgt. Theresa Lynn Treloar has a dangerous job and that she is the Army woman closest to the front lines in the war with Iraq.

"I was given the opportunity to turn this job down," said Sergeant Treloar, whose direct, confident style has won her a nickname she does not quarrel with -- the Ice Lady. "I chose this," she said, "and I knew what I was getting myself into when I chose it."

The front line is only a few miles drive north from the remote desert camp where Sergeant Treloar, 32, and her squad affiliated with the 2nd Armored Cavalry planned their maneuvers, which involve perilous excursions along the Saudi border.

She will say only that the work of her 23-man, one-woman Army team will save the lives of U.S. soldiers. Sergeant Treloar is to cross the border with U.S. forces and remain at the front line as they continue north.

By law, women are not permitted in combat, and it is clear the law was taken to its absolute limit when Sergeant Treloar was sent here.

Sergeant Treloar, who is married to an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and is the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, was well within range of Iraqi artillery. Other members of her team had come under fire from Iraqis prior to last night.

"There's no female in the same situation she is," said Capt. Michael Mendell, who chose Sergeant Treloar for this assignment and kept her here despite questions in the battalion over whether a woman should be placed so close to the border.

"She is the only woman I know who carries an M-16 rifle, a light anti-tank weapon -- an AT-4 -- and grenade," he said. "I would trust her to cover my back in any situation."

He described her as "my bodyguard -- I would trust her with my life."

Sergeant Treloar is a walking, talking Army recruitment poster, the sort of soldier who makes it plain she is proud to put her life on the line for "the American way of life."

That she is a trailblazer, a woman whose work opens doors for other women in the armed forces, is something she notes only in passing.

She understands her performance could guide Army policy the next time a woman seeks an assignment close to the front.

"I always feel that pressure," she said. "A female in an all-male unit is creating a pattern."

She arrived in Saudi Arabia from Fort Bragg last month and was sent to the border almost immediately.

At first, she said, some of the U.S. and Saudi soldiers working around her "were a little shocked" to see a woman so close to the front -- especially the Saudis.

While directing a group of American soldiers in putting up a tent, the sergeant said, she confronted a startled Saudi who, apparently unaware that ranking military women had the authority to give orders, urged her to step aside and keep quiet.

"He looked at me and said, 'You shouldn't speak. I'll speak for you,' " she recalled with anger. Her response to the Saudi included a stream of obscenities "and he got the message fast," she said.

In ways, Sergeant Treloar's career has been hindered because of her sex. Some male soldiers, she says, are quick to judge her because she is a woman, mistaking her professionalism for coldness.

Or, she said, there can be the opposite perception -- that anger in a woman reflects emotion. "There's nothing wrong with being a man who raises his voice," she said. "But God help you if you're a woman and you raise your voice, because then you're being emotional."

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