In 2003, an Army Private First Class made history after her heroic endeavors in the Iraq war. The soldier was at the center of a story that inspired her people. But not all the facts have been clear, until now.
By Any Means Necessary
Determined to find a way to pay for her further education, Jessica met an army recruiter with her family. The meeting took place in 2000 when she was 17 and still in the thick of high school studies. Her mother said how the recruiter “did not lie to the kids. He said there was always the possibility of war in the future.” She admitted that “at that time it was before September 11, and there was no terrorism, so we were like, ‘that would never happen to me.'”
At one point blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jessica Lynch was a symbol of hope for the American people. She was born Jessica Dawn Lynch on April 26, 1983, in the peaceful town of Palestine, West Virginia. But like many Americans, her beginnings were humble and she hoped for a better future. She wanted to explore the world and make a difference. “I wanted to improve my life and not just be there in Palestine forever,” she said. “I wanted to get out and do something.”
Realizing Her Dreams
In 2001, Jessica was nearing one of the most important days of her life – her graduation from Wirt County High School. But what did the future hold for her? The reality was that her family couldn’t afford to put her through college. Therefore, the Army seemed to be a worthwhile alternative to further education. Also, Jessica was determined to see the world, meet new people and experience other cultures. In her mind, there was so much more to see outside of West Virginia.
Those Who Can, Teach
From an early age, Jessica dreamed of becoming a teacher. She wanted to educate the youth and be a positive role model for the next generation. And in her opinion, serving in the military would provide her with the perfect mix of discipline and skills necessary to lead a class in the following years of her life. It would take just a couple of years of service before she could pursue the dream of becoming a school teacher.
Keeping It In The Family
Jessica’s father, Gregory Lynch, a self-employed truck driver, had a beautiful truth to say about his daughter. He claimed that whenever someone told Jessica that there was something she couldn’t do, she would make sure to do it, simply to prove them wrong. This also applied to her early days in the military. People doubted her chances of succeeding in the army. But very soon after graduating, Jessica enlisted. Her brother, Gregory Jr. dropped out of college, and followed her.
Taking A Stand
The straw that broke the camel’s back for Jessica was the untimely terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Less than two weeks after the attacks, on September 19, Jessica was on her way to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to start Basic Training in the Army. And even though the nation had witnessed their most threatening attack ever to take place on home soil, Jessica never anticipated that their would be actual war. In her mind, she never thought she’d need to use combat in her life.
Life Of A Soldier
Jessica completed basic training and was ready to move onto more advanced procedures. She completed Advanced Individual Training in preparation for her Military Occupational Specialty. Also known as AIT, the time length for Advanced Individual Training depends on what the soldier specializes in and can last anywhere between four weeks and a year. Jessica turned out to be a unit supply specialist and would complete her advanced training in the Quartermaster Corps in Fort Lee, Virginia.
The Next Step
The new soldier made her way to Fort Bliss in Texas, where she was stationed as a supply clerk. Fort Bliss is the U.S. military’s second largest installation and is used for missile and artillery testing. Jessica saw this station as a useful opportunity to develop some experience in business matters. The experience would stand her in good stead for life after the Army. But war was imminent. By December 2002, Jessica penned a four-year extension with the Army.
Time For Iraq
By the time March came around in 2003, war in the Middle East was a harsh reality. And Jessica, prepared to do whatever it took to help her country, was sent to Iraq with the 507th Maintenance Company. She was now Private First Class, and ready for war. However, it didn’t take long before she would take part in an event that would shake the Middle East to its core. Jessica was at the heart of what turned out to be the Battle of Nasiriyah.
Who Is She?
At one point, Jessica Lynch dominated the media across the states and beyond. But the soldier wasn’t prepared to be part of a military that lied to the media. Lynch finally brought the truth to the surface of how her story transpired.
A Twist In The Tale
On March 23, Jessica was fulfilling her duties as a supply clerk, travelling with her convoy in a Humvee. However, due to a fault in their navigational equipment, the convoy made a wrong turn into an unfamiliar setting – Nasiriyah. It didn’t help that Captain Troy King, a supply officer who had no training in combat, led the convoy. After passing through a checkpoint near the Euphrates river, Iraqi vehicles began to shadow the convoy.
In The Shadows
Captain King began to realize that he had taken his team into unchartered territory. But by the time he decided to turn around, it was way too late. Enemies had been lurking in shadows, staking out the convoy that had taken a wrong turn. And suddenly, out of the blue, the convoy was under fire from the unexpected enemy. The assailants couldn’t believe their luck, and had no hesitance in taking this golden opportunity to fire away at Jessica’s convoy.
The Battle Ensues
The Iraqis blasted the Humvee with a rocket-propelled grenade, forcing the convoy to crash into a tractor trailer. This escalated into a 90-minute long battle, forcing the convoy to split into three smaller groups. Both the first and second groups made it through the carnage unscathed, despite the second group facing serious vehicle damage. But the third group weren’t so lucky, and were thoroughly defeated. The lives of 11 American soldiers were claimed but fortunately for Jessica, she wasn’t won of them.
Despite surviving the battle, Jessica was gravely injured. She received a wound to the head and broke her back. As a result of the ambush, she was officially listed as M.I.A. (missing in action.) And she wasn’t the only soldier that went missing. Her best friend, Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa was given the responsibility of driving the Humvee. She also was listed M.I.A., along with four more soldiers. After waking up from her injuries, Jessica knew she was now a prisoner of war.
Jessica and some of her contemporaries were now in the hands of the Iraqis. But she was being treated at the Saddam Hospital in Nasiriya. At the time, the medical center was being used as a military base. And although Jessica overcame her injuries, Lori was not so lucky. She succumbed to her injuries, dying in the hospital. The Iraqi military videoed the prisoners, which they transmitted worldwide. The video confirmed that the surviving soldiers were actually being tortured.
An Unexpected Ally
Although Saddam Hospital’s doctors and staff claimed to have protected Jessica from the battle during her treatment, the true conditions she faced were frightening. A lawyer by the name of Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief commented on his experiences in the hospital. At one point, he spotted one of the authorities slapping Jessica in the face. “My heart stopped. I knew then I must help her be saved,” said al Rehaif. In a sheer moment of bravery, the lawyer risked his own life to save Jessica’s.
Confusingly, a variety of reports disclosed details surrounding Jessica’s captivity that contradicted each other. For example, it was reported that al Rehaief’s wife was actually a nurse at the hospital. However, hospital staff claimed that although al Rehaief was there, his wife didn’t work at the hospital. Doctors insisted that Jessica was treated well during her stay, and she agreed with this sentiment. She even claimed that a nurse sang to her in an attempt to comfort her.
To The Rescue
After alerting the U.S. military, a special force team swiftly came to Jessica’s rescue. On April 1, 2003, U.S. troops stormed the hospital taking Jessica and transporting her to Germany’s Ramstein Air Base. Paramedics wasted no time trying to repair her broken back, eventually taking her to a recovery facility at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, close to Washington D.C. However, it wasn’t long before the media blew up with stories surrounding details of the hospital rescue.
Doctors who were present during the raid claimed that they had been clustered together at gunpoint, treating each person they encountered as if they could be a potential threat. But special ops force experts have insisted that the tactics were necessary in order to liberate the captives. That wasn’t all – the doctors also said that Iraqi troops had left the hospital prior to the raid and that no one who was present at the time tried to resist the American military.
The rescue of Jessica was a monumental moment in American history. The recovery meant many firsts in the history of the U.S. military and was at the center of much media coverage. This is because it was the first time that an American prisoner of war had been rescued since the war in Vietnam. Also, the Private First Class was the first woman to ever be rescued after being held captive in the heat of an American war.
A National Hero
The media portrayed Jessica as a vigilant American hero, firing her gun until running out of bullets, protecting the rights of Americans in the process. She was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Star and POW medals for her heroism. After Jessica’s recovery, she was discharged, but couldn’t avoid the publicity. She signed a $1 million book deal, having a biography published detailing her experiences in Iraq. But I Am A Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story wasn’t without its fair share of critics…
Something’s Not Quite Right
Private First Class Jessica became the poster girl for American soldiers risking their lives during the time of the war in Iraq. However, something was off. Details in the biography were not adding up, perplexing readers and making them question what was true and what wasn’t. Some reports stated that no Iraqi soldiers were found when the U.S. military stormed the hospital. Other accounts claimed that hospital staff tried to return Jessica back to the American troops before the raid.
A Prime Example
Take this news report, for example. The Washington Post published a front-page article, reading: “Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her.” The post also quoted a unanimous official who claimed that “she was fighting to the death…She did not want to be taken alive.” But Jessica has dismissed these pictures that the media has portrayed of her as false.
I’m No Hero
Shocked by the facade that the media had created for her, Jessica was uncomfortable being labelled as a hero. After fully recovering from her injuries, the soldier spoke up about the false reports. Jessica clarified on record that her gun was jammed during the battle of Nasiriya and she had been knocked out cold during the gun fire. She said, “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing. I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.”
Fight The Power
Jessica also criticized the U.S. media during her testimony. “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary.” She credited “people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.”
Fight The Power
Who was lying? From Jessica’s point of view, she was incredibly frustrated with the Pentagon’s effort to falsely promote her as a war hero. She swiftly squashed the uncertainties. “It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” she said. “It’s wrong.” Jessica also doesn’t understand why the army would have filmed the rescue, never mind lying about the events that transpired.
Jessica was in a difficult situation. She was portrayed in the media as a heroic figure, but at the expense of overshadowing the soldiers who lost their lives, including her friend Lori. It didn’t help the media’s reputation that one of the soldiers that was captured with Jessica was Shoshana Johnson, a black woman. Also, Lori was of Hopi descent. It became very clear that the media had exploited Jessica’s status as a blonde hair, blue eyed white woman.
The author of Jessica’s biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg claims that the veteran had been abused whilst she was unconscious during her captivity. This claim was attributed to medical records and some of the injuries she sustained during the time. However, Jessica did not recall such an incident occurring and was “adamantly opposed to including the…claim in the book.” But Bragg insisted that “people need to know that this is what can happen to women soldiers.”
Answering The Critics
Although Jessica received much positive feedback for her testimony, she has claimed to have received a lot of hate mail from compatriots. According to her, many have accused her of fabricating her stories of heroism, as opposed to the media. “I was captured, but then I was OK and I didn’t go down fighting. OK, so what?” she said. “It was really hard to convince people that I didn’t have to do any of that. That I was injured, that I still needed comfort.”
A Lost Friend
One of the ultimate challenges that Jessica has faced over the years was the loss of her best friend, Lori Piestewa. “I still don’t cope well, to this day, with losing Lori,” Jessica said. She admitted that she looked up to Lori in many ways. “I still don’t understand,” Lynch said. “Why did they kill her and not me? Why am I here, and not her? The therapist is helping me, telling me to focus on the…memories.”
After The War
But Jessica hasn’t let the propaganda bring down her efforts to pursue a good life post-war. Since being discharged, Jessica has graduated from the University of West Virginia with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After her service, her tuition fees were paid for and she has also embarked on the teaching career she was so determined to pursue during her adolescence. She also found love, marrying Wes Robinson and having a daughter in 2007. In honor of her late Native-American friend Lori, Jessica named her daughter Dakota Ann.
A Mother’s Love
Daughter Dakota is living proof of the amazing progress that Jessica has made since her time in Iraq. There were so many times that Jessica tried to prove people wrong who told her she couldn’t do something. Dakota embodies her mother’s determination to prove the doctors wrong who told her that she wouldn’t be able to have children due to her internal injuries. And Jessica takes Dakota around the U.S. with her when she gives speeches about her experiences.
Let’s Get Physical
Since her time in Iraq, Jessica has pushed herself to get back to maximum physical shape over the last 15 years. She has been consistently involved with a physical therapy team, working to repair her internal injuries and fix her back. “Physical Therapy is my second home. It has helped me through everything. Overall I’ve had, I think, up to 22 surgeries,” she said. “Because of the internal damaged that I suffered, along with the nerve damage and the broken back.”
Despite her apprehension to talk about her experience, Jessica would wear a brace on her left foot to college classes. “It gives me the opportunity to blend in and not stick out and really experience the college life, just like they are.” Jessica stayed true to her roots, stating “I want people to remember me as being a soldier who went over there and did my job. Nothing special. I’m just a country girl at heart.”
Teaching The Next Generation
Her story also came full circle when she pursued the career she had set out to have before joining the army. “I wanted to go to college and be a teacher,” she said. “I’m all about kids. I’ve always wanted that. I was meant for that and I was going to have it.” Jessica works sometimes as a substitute teacher, which gives her much flexibility. A full-time teaching job would be too physically demanding for her aching body.
Hitting The Big Screen
Jessica has even starred in a movie in recent times. She featured in the 2014 drama Virtuous. Creator Jason Campbell brought her on to play the role of a military specialist. He believed that she would be the perfect person for the role as she would be able to draw upon her own experiences from her time in Iraq. This particular endeavor was just another string to Jessica’s bow, and goes to show how far she has come.
After achieving all the goals she had set out for herself before joining the military, Jessica spoke up about the fabricated stories surrounding her. She stood before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and claimed the Pentagon had exaggerated her role in the battle. “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and to tell the truth; many soldiers…did not have that opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy. The truth is always more heroic than the hype,” she said.
Pain In All Its Forms
Despite overcoming many obstacles post-war, Jessica is still hurting from her horrific experiences. Since 2003, the veteran has had 22 surgeries to treat long-term injuries sustained from the battle. And like many veterans, war gave her post-traumatic stress. In recent times, about 12 years after she was captured, Jessica had a nervous breakdown and spent a period of time fixed to her bed. She struggled to get over losing Lori. Eventually, she found the strength the seek help.
Even now, Jessica dreams about the fateful day that she was captured. Faceless Iraqi men chase her through the woods, the images haunt her to this very day. As the monsters grab her, she wakes up in cold sweats. The nightmares have only slightly changed over the years, but the veteran will do whatever it takes to make them stop. “I try to dream about peaceful things, beaches,” she said. “That is what I cannot understand. Why are they chasing me?”
Long Term Effects
Nearly 15 years later and Jessica is still feeling immense emotional pain from the ordeal she suffered in Iraq. It seems like the media backlash that she received was as terrifying as the actual experience. “That’s been one of my biggest struggles is handling the whole criticism that has come with the backlash of the stories that were created — these fabricated stories,” Lynch said. “I want to make sure that the people that deserve the credit get the credit, not me who was knocked unconscious and didn’t get to fire off a shot.”