Behind the camera: US Military
Where: Military Photographer
Photo Summary: DoD portrait
Picture Taken: Undated
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee
Jessica Lynch became one of the main news stories of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Media jumped on the story of a cute little blond soldier who was plucked from behind enemy lines by US Special Forces. The American military filmed the rescue attempt and footage from the official military cut and stills from the footage became one of the most viewed pictures of the war. When talking about Jessica the media would also cut to a DoD portrait of her probably the most famous soldier of the war.
Jessica Dawn Lynch
Jessica Dawn Lynch was born on April 26, 1983, in Palestine, West Virginia. She joined the army hoping to see the world after being turned down for a job at Walmart. She was assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company (based in Fort Bliss, Texas) as a Quartermaster Corps Private First Class (PFC).
The 507th Maintenance Company is based out of Fort Bliss, Texas. Made up of cooks, clerks, mechanics and other support staff provided they keep the 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery (ADA) running.
A trailing vehicle convoy of this unit got lost during the rapid advance towards Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 23, 2003. The 507th was last in a marching column of over 600 vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division. This element which included the heavier, slower vehicles of the 507th, made a wrong turn into Nasiriyah, a major crossing point over the Euphrates River northwest of Basra. After the war, a U.S. Army investigation concluded that this wrong turn was the result of a navigational error compounded by a lack of rest, limited communications and human error.
Nasiriyah was still under Iraqi control and as the 507th drove around its crowded streets desperately trying to find their way out of the city they drove into an ambush where most in the unit were gunned down. Five members were able to get away but six either too wounded to run or totally surrounded by enemy forces surrendered after their weapons jammed from the Iraqi sand. Those taken prisoners were:
When they surrendered, they feared the worse. Private First Class Patrick Miller held out little hope for mercy. “I thought they were going to kill me,” he said. “That was the first thing I asked when they captured me: ‘Are you going to kill me?’ They said no. . . . I still didn’t believe them.”
Best Friend, Lori Ann Piestewa
Are you going to kill me?
-Private First Class Patrick Miller
While the other members of her unit were taken into Iraqi custody two heavily injured American POWs, Jessica Lynch and her best friend in the army, Lori Ann Piestewa was taken first to a Military Field Hospital, a few hundred meters from the ambush site at 8 am, about an hour after the attack. A few hours later, she was brought to the al-Nasiriyah general hospital. Footage later emerged of the two receiving medical aid. When the footage was shot, Lori Ann Piestewa was still alive and when the Iraqi TV adjusted her body for the camera’s she appeared to grimace in pain although the footage didn’t seem to show was aware of what was going on. The footage was never aired in Iraq and only surfaced months later when an employee of the state-run Iraqi TV handed over a copy to American forces. While doctors were able to save Jessica Lynch, Lori Ann Piestewa died from severe head injuries.
Al-Nasiriyah General Hospital
no bullet … no stab wound, no other thing, merely … road traffic accident
When the American military rescued Lynch they reported that she had received several bullets and stab wounds from “valiantly” fighting the Iraqis until she ran out of ammunition. She herself claims that she never fired a shot as her gun jammed when the first bullet was fired, “I did not shoot – not a round, nothing. I went down praying to my knees – that’s the last thing I remember.” Also, Dr Harith Al-Houssona, 24, the doctor who first treated her at the hospital remembers her injuries, “I examine her, I see she has a broken arm… and broken thigh, with a dislocated ankle. Then we do another examination. There is no shooting, no bullet inside her body… no stab wound, no other thing, merely RTA. Only road traffic accident … She was very frightened when she woke up,… She kept saying: ‘Please don’t hurt me, don’t touch me.’ I told her that she was safe, she was in a hospital and that I was a doctor, and I never hurt a patient.” After gaining her trust Jessica had a number of conversations with the doctor discussing her boyfriend back home and fighting with her family. Dr Harith even went outside the hospital to get her some orange juice as she wouldn’t eat anything, “I told her she needed to eat to recover, and I brought her crackers, but her stomach was upset. She said as a joke: ‘I want to be slim.’ ”
In the time between her capture and being taken to the hospital, reports from American doctors who examined her after her rescue claimed that she had been raped. Mahdi Khafazji, an orthopedic surgeon at the Nasiriyah hospital disputed these claims. He was the doctor who performed surgery on Lynch to repair a fractured femur. He claims he found no sign of rape and protected Jessica when she arrived at the hospital, “She was injured at about 7 in the morning,” he said. “What kind of animal would do it to a person suffering from multiple injuries?”
As her condition stabilized Jessica’s military captors ordered staff to transfer her to another hospital but on March 30, 2003, Dr. Harith instead told the ambulance driver to take her to the advancing American forces but when the ambulance driver approached American forces they were fired upon forcing him to return Jessica to the hospital. Dr. Harith was then able to hide her in the hospital and when retreating Iraqi forces abandoned their positions and fell back to Baghdad without taking her thinking that she wasn’t at the hospital. By this time Iraqi informants had told American forces that an American POW was being held at the hospital.
Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief
The US military has claimed that several Iraqi informants were able to get in touch with American forces but the one that got the most media attention was Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief. According to Mohammed, he was visiting his wife who was a nurse in the hospital in an effort to get her to leave with him to a safer area while the fighting was going on:
I went to see my wife [and] What caught my attention was that there were some bodyguards at a door, and there was a rumor going around Nasariya that one of the Baath party leaders was in the hospital. But when passed nearby [Lynch’s room,] I heard the door slam hard. And the guards in front of the door were talking very loudly. That is not a common thing to do when there is a big leader in the room—doors close nicely, you talk quietly. There were no flowers, no gifts, and it didn’t like anybody was paying attention to that room. When there is a VIP, lots of doctors and nurses are around. I went in, I saw Jessica and three people—one was a fedayeen
[militia] officer, one a translator and a third one was writing. I saw the fedayeen officer slapping her face. She was answering to the translator instead of to him, that’s when he hit her … Because there was a young lady facing death. It was my duty to humanity to help her. The Americans came there to help us, and I looked at her like she was a savior for us. We were living under a very cruel dictatorship for 35 years. — Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief
Mohammed went on to say that he returned twice to American forces to give them information on the layout of the hospital and Jessica’s location. It was during one of these crossings between fighting Iraqi and American forces that his car was hit by shrapnel and Mohammed was hit in the face losing vision in his left eye.
After the successful rescue of Jessica on April 10 Mohammed his wife and then five-year-old daughter were taken to America from a refugee camp in Iraq. They were granted, “humanitarian parole, a status typically awarded for urgent humanitarian cases, such as foreigners needing urgent medical care.” Mohammed and his family were given this type of special treatment because the American’s could not guarantee his safety in Iraq.
After the end of combat operations, many other accounts of what happened began to cast doubt on Mohammed’s story with even his wife describing him as overly influenced by John Wayne movies. He still lives in the Washington D.C. area of the United States and as of 2006 works for The Livingston Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm run by former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston.
On April 1, 2003, with information from Mohammed and other informants the military made their move to rescue Jessica. Earlier in the day Marines staged a diversionary attack against Iraqi forces in an effort to draw soldiers away from the hospital. While the Marines forces attacked a joint assault unit of Navy Seal’s and Army Rangers landed with BlackHawk helicopters and secured the hospital and took Jessica out. The military created a video and the footage shows a terrified Jessica in the hospital with what appears to be patients herded into one room.
It was the first time in decades that a military operation to rescue POWs behind enemy lines had been pulled off and Special Forces officials justified videotaping the operation for the historical value, and also for future educational purposes. When reports emerged that blanks were used during the raid Special forces personal bristled and went on to say that, “no shots — blanks or otherwise — were fired by the Navy SEAL-led team inside Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah, south of Baghdad.” In fact, officials said there was no resistance by any of the Iraqi’s present in the hospital but that treating those present as potential threats is part of their operating procedure.
Another part of the operation that is not often reported was that while Jessica was being brought down from hospital a team of soldiers was digging up the nine members of Jessica’s unit that had been killed, some of which had been killed with a shot to the forehead.
They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. It’s wrong
Jessica returned to America with a hero’s welcome in her hometown, Palestine, West Virginia and her family and fiancé, Sgt. Ruben Contreras, who was also in the army. By the time she came back to America, Jessica Lynch was a media star. Offers for book deals poured in and eventually she signed a one for over a million dollars which went on to become a best seller and later became a movie, Saving Jessica Lynch.
On August 27, 2003, Lynch was given a medical honorable discharge and after months of physical therapy, Lynch began to feel confident about her ordeal and the Pentagon’s spin of the events surrounding her capture. While doing an interview with Diane Sawyer she again denied that she went down fighting and while expressing gratitude for her rescue said the way the Pentagon portrayed the rescue bothered her, “Yes, it does. They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. It’s wrong.”
After returning home her relationship cooled with finance Sgt. Contreras. First, there was a postponement in 2004 and by 2006 the two were just good friends. In August 2005 Lynch started attending West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. In 2006 she announced that she and boyfriend Wes Robinson are expecting a girl which was born in January. The 7 pounds, 10 ounces was given a name inspired by her best friend in the army Lori Piestewa who died when they were attacked, Dakota Ann Robinson. Ann was Lori Piestewa’s middle name and Dakota means friendship or ally.
In March 22, 2018, Inside Edition reported that Lynch was hired as a 5th-grade teacher in West Virginia.