Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez (1983–2006) was a 2005 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the first black female officer in U.S. military history to die in combat.
Emily Jazmin Tatum Perez was born in Heidelberg, West Germany, into a U.S. military family. With her father’s Puerto Rican heritage and her mother’s African American ancestry, Perez identified as “Afro-Rican.” When Perez was in 10th grade, her family relocated to Maryland. She graduated from Oxon Hill High School, where she ranked among the top-10 students in her class. While in high school, she began an HIV-AIDS ministry at her church and was also an educator at the Red Cross where she worked to remove the stigma surrounding AIDS diagnoses.
Perez graduated from high school in 2001 and entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. She was a driven student and a talented track athlete and became the highest-ranking black female cadet in the history of West Point.
In December 2005, Lieutenant Perez was deployed to Iraq with the 204th Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division as a Medical Service Corps officer for the United States Army. Sadly, on September 12, 2006, Perez was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near her Humvee. She was the first black female officer in U.S. military history to die in combat. Lieutenant Perez’s decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, and the Combat Action Badge. She posthumously received the NCAA Award of Valor in 2008.
A bible and sword and scabbard used by Perez at West Point are on view in the NMAAHC exhibition Double Victory: The African American Military Experience.