Lynch: #039;I#039;m an American soldier, too#039;

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2003

The Associated Press

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar (AP) -- ''Jessica Lynch,'' a U.S. soldier called out. ''We are United States soldiers, and we're here to protect you and take you home.''

On her hospital bed, Pfc. Jessica Lynch peered out from the sheet with which she'd been covering her head in fear.

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''I'm an American soldier, too,'' she replied.

U.S. Central Command on Saturday released the dramatic details of Lynch's rescue, as the 19-year-old supply clerk, now safely at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, awaited a meeting with her family.

Lynch's parents, two siblings and a cousin left their West Virginia home Saturday to fly to Germany for the reunion with their daughter. ''I can't wait to see her,'' said her mother, Deadra Lynch.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart, speaking at a briefing in Qatar, said a team of Navy SEALs, Marine commandos, Air Force pilots and Army Rangers carried out the rescue Tuesday in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

While troops engaged the Iraqis in another part of the city, the rescue team persuaded an Iraqi doctor to lead them to Lynch, Renuart said.

Lynch, who'd been held since a week earlier when her unit was ambushed, had suffered a head wound, an injury to her spine, and fractures to her right arm, both legs, her right foot and ankle. The rescuers quickly evaluated her medical condition, secured her to a stretcher and took her to a waiting helicopter.

''Jessica held up her hand and grabbed the Ranger doctor's hand, and held onto it for the entire time, and said, 'Please don't let anybody leave me,''' Renuart said. ''It was clear she knew where she was and didn't want to be left anywhere near the enemy.''

Meanwhile, the Iraqi doctor told the team there were remains of other U.S. soldiers nearby, and they were led to a burial site. Because they had not brought shovels, Renuart said, the team dug up the bodies with their hands.

''They wanted to do that very rapidly, so they could race the sun and be off the site before the sun came up,'' he said. ''It's a great testament to the will and desire of coalition forces to bring their own home.''

The Americans were also looking for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, commander of southern forces. He is known as Chemical Ali for leading the 1988 campaign against rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq in which thousands died, many in chemical attacks.

''On the evening of the attack, he was not located in that hospital,'' Renuart said. ''That's not to say that we haven't been tracking him down at some other locations and will continue to do so until we're pretty confident that he's been eliminated.''

Renuart did not shed any new light on how Lynch sustained her wounds -- whether she was injured in captivity or when the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed March 23.

Eight of the dead soldiers found during the rescue were members of the ambushed unit, Renuart said. The ninth was a soldier from a forward support group of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, he said. All have been transported back to the United States.

The Lynch family got word of the deaths Saturday just before boarding a plane in Charleston, W.Va. The family broke off a news conference after being told that seven members of their daughter's unit were among the bodies retrieved during the raid.

''I wasn't aware of this. … Our hearts are really saddened for her other troop members and the other families,'' Lynch's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., said before choking up.

Lynch's family has said doctors had determined she'd been shot. They found two entry and exit wounds ''consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds,'' her mother has said.

Lynch had a back operation Thursday and surgery for other broken bones Friday, according to the commander of the hospital, Col. David Rubenstein. A friend is at her bedside and although she's still being fed intravenously, she's drawn up a list of her favorite foods for the hospital: turkey, steamed carrots and applesauce.

''Her emotional state is extremely good. She's jovial. She's talking with staff,'' Rubenstein said.

While the U.S. team was in the hospital, Renuart said, they also found a weapons cache and a large-scale sandbox model depicting U.S. and Iraqi positions in Nasiriyah.