to Rescuers: ‘I’m an American Soldier, Too’
By Jim Garamone,
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2003 – The special
operations mission to rescue Army Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch from Iraqi
captivity was a triumph of joint planning and execution, said
Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart.
Renuart, operations chief at U.S. Central Command,
gave more information about the Lynch rescue during a press conference
in Qatar today.
Lynch was taken prisoner by Iraqi forces when
the convoy she was riding in was ambushed by Iraqi irregulars
near Nasiriyah March 23.
Renuart said that U.S. forces in the area began
to get some indications from local contacts that there was an
injured American being held at the hospital in Nasiriyah. Special
operations forces further solidified the data.
"Anytime we have a situation like that, we
put together a planning team that investigates the intelligence
and decides, is this credible, and if so, do we have the capability
to respond to recover our service member?" Renuart said.
The team decided the intelligence was right, and
special operators put the plan into motion. On April 1, U.S. Army
Rangers, Special Forces and aviators; U.S. Navy SEALs; Air Force
pilots and combat controllers; and U.S. Marine elements launched
Renuart said speed was essential to rescue Lynch
and to "exploit some areas of the hospital where we had reports
of enemy headquarters, command-and-control facilities and the
One unit of Marines created a diversion in Nasiriyah.
Another element, using helicopters and ground transport, brought
the special operations team to the hospital.
"Upon entering the hospital, the assault
force actually persuaded a local physician to lead them to Private
Lynch’s location, and this local physician claimed at the same
time that there were … remains of other U.S. military either
in the morgue or possibly buried close by," Renuart said.
As the rescue team members entered Lynch’s hospital
room, they called her name. "She had been scared, had the
sheet up over her head because she didn’t know what was happening,"
Renuart said. "She lowered the sheet from her head. She didn’t
really respond yet because I think she was probably pretty scared.
One team member repeated, "’Jessica Lynch,
we’re the United States soldiers and we’re here to protect you
and take you home,’" the general said. "She seemed to
understand that. And as he walked over and took his helmet off,
she looked up to him and said, ‘I’m an American soldier, too.’"
A U.S. physician with the team evaluated her condition
and the team evacuated her. She had injuries both to her legs,
her arm, a head injury, and seemed to be in a fair amount of pain,
One helicopter transported her to another nearby
waiting aircraft, which would then move her to a field hospital,
Renuart continued. "Jessica held up her hand and grabbed
the Ranger doctor’s hand, held on to it for the entire time and
said, ‘Please don’t let anybody leave me.’ It was clear she knew
where she was and she didn’t want to be left anywhere in the hands
of the enemy," he noted.
While the rescue was ongoing, other team members
were led to a burial site containing bodies they thought might
be American. "They … did not have shovels in order
to dig those graves up, so they dug them up with their hands,"
Renuart said. "They wanted to do that very rapidly so that
they could race the sun and be off the site before the sun came
up — a great testament to the will and desire of coalition forces
to bring their own home."
The team evacuated the bodies, and they were returned
to the United States for forensic testing.
DoD identified eight of the bodies as American
soldiers: Sgt. George E. Buggs, 31, of Barnwell, S.C.; Master
Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland, Ohio; Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto,
18, of El Paso, Texas; Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Comfort, Texas;
Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of Amarillo,
Texas; Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz.; Pvt. Brandon
U. Sloan, 19, of Cleveland, Ohio; and Sgt. Donald R. Walters,
33, of Kansas City, Mo.
Buggs was with the 3rd Division Support Battalion
of Fort Stewart, Ga. All the rest from Lynch’s unit, the 507th
Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas.
under treatment at the Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.