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Saturday, April 5

Rescued POW Lynch puts a face on women in combat

By The Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch

Sonya Hurse, a senior ROTC cadet at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., knows firsthand the sacrifices women make to serve in the military.

Hurse moved to Huntington as a child to live with her grandmother when her mother took a tour of duty overseas with the Army. Now Hurse is preparing for a military career at a time when the United States is at war.

``Every day when I look at my grandmother or I see my neighbors playing in the yard, I think it's better for me as one person to die for my country than to risk the lives of many,'' she said. ``I really have a peace about it because I feel like it's a wonderful opportunity given to me by God, and that's my strength.''

The rescue Tuesday of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, of Palestine, W.Va., and the reports that she courageously fought the Iraqis who ambushed her company have again turned attention toward the role women play in military conflict. And when 23-year-old Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, a member of Lynch's company, was declared dead on Saturday, she became the first American woman soldier killed in the war.

Many people still see women as primarily serving as nurses or in administrative roles, Hurse said.

``Now they'll see that women are active in all parts of the military, even in combat situations, and a lot of people don't realize that,'' Hurse said.

Women who serve in the Army do not serve in Special Forces or other units primarily engaged in combat. Other branches of the military also restrict women's direct role in fighting.

But women do serve in support roles for soldiers in combat, which often places them in danger's way. Lynch is a supply clerk with the Army's 507th Maintenance Company. She was listed as missing in action - as was Piestewa - after her company was ambushed on March 23.

Another female member of Lynch's company, Spc. Shoshana Johnson, mother of a 2-year-old daughter, is still listed as a POW in Iraq. Paraded along with some other soldiers in front of television cameras soon after her capture, her current condition is unknown.

The women reignited debate over women's physical and mental capabilities, vulnerability to sexual assault, the value of traditional gender roles and the affect on children when both parents or single parents are deployed, according to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation Inc.

``The best way to put it is that women cannot be in a direct combat role, but I'll borrow a line from Rush Limbaugh and say that, `The role of the Army is to kill people and break things,' `` said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Craig Austin of Culloden, W.Va. ``That's the basic role of anybody wearing a uniform.''

Women in support roles today are even closer to combat because war has changed, Hurse said. In Iraq, Americans face suicide bombers and soldiers that pose as civilians.

``Wars aren't fought like they used to be,'' Hurse said. ``There really is no frontline.''

Linda Davies, a kindergarten teacher at Wirt County (W.Va.) Primary Center, was one of Lynch's favorite teachers. In January, Lynch visited Davies' class.

``I tell my little girls in class that anything the boys can do you can do and sometimes better,'' Davies said. ``When Jessica came to visit us, I introduced her and said she's in the Army.''

But the 5-year-olds in her class were puzzled. Lynch is approximately 5-feet-4 inches tall and weighs approximately 100 pounds. Her pictures show a petite woman with wispy blonde hair and blue eyes.

``I think people are probably surprised that (Lynch) survived as a POW being that she looks so young, and in my opinion, a little frail in her picture,'' Hurse said. ``It just shows that women in the military come in all shapes and sizes and that we're trained to do our jobs. Obviously, (Lynch) was successful.''