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Thursday, May 22

Army posthumously promotes female POW killed in Iraq

By Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON - The Army on Thursday announced that Lori Piestewa has been promoted, posthumously, from the rank of private first class to Army specialist.

"The casualty assistance office is notifying the family today,'' said Jean Offutt, a spokeswoman for Fort Bliss in Texas. She said the promotion is being made effective March 23, the date Piestewa's Fort Bliss-based army unit was ambushed near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, a U.S. House Armed Services Committee member from Arizona says that an "after-action'' report into what happened to the Tuba City, Ariz., native and other members of the 507th Maintenance Unit is complete.

"This is, as I understand, really the final report of what occurred, and how it occurred,'' said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

But Franks said the military's findings will not be provided to him or other members of Congress, or released publicly, until mid-June.

Congressional aides said the Pentagon wants the Piestewas and other unit members' families to see the report before public disclosure. A second investigation, called a "commander's inquiry'' also is under way.

A 23-year-old Hopi mother of two young children, Piestewa is believed to be the first Native American woman killed in combat while serving in the U.S. military and was the only female American soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The news of both Piestewa's promotion and the completion of the investigation comes as Piestewa's parents, her children and other family members were preparing to travel Friday to Washington, D.C., for a weekend of events and ceremonies honoring her.

Along with a visit to the White House and a ceremony at a servicewomen's memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Piestewas have arranged a private meeting with rescued prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, a fellow member of the 507th who was Piestewa's friend.

The family says it will not talk about the visit with Lynch, who is recuperating at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

The promotion lifts Piestewa to grade E-4. That is one grade higher than private first class, and one below a sergeant. An Army corporal also is an E-4.

The promotion would have given Piestewa an additional $200 a month in pay. But it will have no impact on the amount of survivor's benefits for her children, Offutt said.

Offutt said Piestewa had been eligible for the promotion prior to her deployment to Iraq, but that ``it just had not happened.''

"It's a good, kind gesture,'' said Franks, whose district includes the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona. ``It's a recognition that she served her country honorably and sacrificed herself for all of us.''