In advance of the fifth anniversary of the attack on the 507th on March 23, U.S. News spoke with three members of the maintenance company who shared their reflections on being soldiers, captives, and veterans of an ongoing war.
Jessica Lynch calls her appearance before Congress one year ago "the scariest thing" she's ever done. That is a considerable statement from a former soldier and prisoner of war who suffered a broken back, crushed legs, and extensive internal injuries. "I was kind of fretting it—should I do this? But I thought it was really necessary," she says. "It's probably the best thing I've done so far—the scariest, but the best."
Despite the letters of support she received after her testimony before a House oversight committee, Lynch says that she still gets hate mail—at least a couple of notes every few months—from Americans who accuse her of making up the heroic acts attributed to her. "I was captured, but then I was OK and I didn't go down fighting. OK, so what?" she says. "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."
Lynch's injuries were immense. She was the only survivor among five fellow soldiers in her humvee. In excruciating pain at the Iraqi hospital, Lynch couldn't feel her legs after she regained consciousness. In the absence of any medicine including painkillers, a nurse rubbed talcum powder on her arms. "I learned to put trust in [the Iraqi hospital staff]. I kind of had to," Lynch says. "If I didn't, I felt like they could have easily said, 'Here, just take her; do what you want with her.'"
Rescued by U.S. Special Forces three weeks later and taken to a military hospital, U.S. doctors informed Lynch that she had been sexually assaulted, likely before she arrived at the Iraqi hospital. "Once the RPG [rocket-propelled grendade] hit, something caused me to black out," she says. "We think it's from breaking my back, but we're not actually sure." Lynch's doctors were not sure she would be able to conceive children, either, since she had suffered severe internal injuries, including bowel, bladder, and kidney damage in the aftermath of the attack. "We usually just say kidney, because it's less embarrassing," she says.
It is not what she was counting on when she enlisted in the Army with her brother before the 9/11 attacks. "We had a recruiter come out and talk to us at the house, and we liked everything he was saying," she says. "A war situation didn't cross my mind. I was overloaded with the idea that I can travel"—Lynch dreamed of being stationed in Hawaii—"and they can pay for college, the positive side of things." She and her brother made a decision. "We said, 'Let's join together,' and we got our cousin to go with us."
Lynch's brother, Greg, was deployed to Iraq after she returned home, and in the months that followed, she was glued to the television. Now he is back, and she doesn't watch coverage of the war. "Honestly, it's hard; it's depressing," she says. "You hope for the best, but five years later, did we do the right thing or not?" she asks. "But we can't all just give up. Even if you disagree, the fact is that we still have soldiers over there."
Lynch saw a psychologist immediately after returning from Iraq but has had no counseling since. "I put it all in perspective, and I've learned to deal with it. I'm just happy I survived," she says. "I still have nightmares, a fear of being alone, and all of that stuff. But when I feel myself getting depressed, I distract myself"—usually by baking. "Anything chocolate and sweet. I love to mess around with stuff like that."
In the meantime, she continues to travel to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., three times a year for surgeries. She struggles with the aftereffects of a broken back and nerve damage, which makes it tough for her to stand for long periods of time, and shattered legs, for which she wears braces. There is a possibility that a toe may need to be amputated, as the brace irritates a wound that just won't heal.