Not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the horrific events that unfolded on March 23, 2003.
It was early morning as my Army unit rolled through the town of An Nasiriyah. As soon as we crossed the bridge, there was an eerie feeling that was unlike the days before. At this point, we were all badly fatigued from the lack of sleep, from being lost in the deserts of Iraq, and just mentally drained. This was the first deployment for most all of the 507th Maintenance based out of Fort Bliss, Texas, as the majority of us were young soldiers. While excited, we were still scared of the unknowns.
That morning — the morning that would alter the course of my life — we came face to face with the unknown. It was the morning we became casualties of war. Sadly, 11 soldiers never made it back out of the city. Dozens were injured and six, including me, were captured and held as prisoners of war after we were ambushed and came under attack.
Looking back, I remember being in the Humvee with Spc. Piestewa driving, 1st Sgt. Dowdy in the passenger seat, Sgt. Buggs and Spc. Anguiano sitting on both sides of me in the backseat. As the ambush started, Sgt. Buggs and Spc. Anguiano had the only two working weapons in the vehicle. All others had malfunctioned. Many, many weapons had jammed or malfunctioned leading up to that point, leaving us vulnerable for the unexpected.
It has been more than 12 years since that day in Iraq. I am just one of 33 soldiers who will never forget that day, a day of memories that haunt me. Memories that include constant nightmares, leg pain that never goes away, physical limitations and endless hours of physical therapy that still lie ahead.
The past 12 years have not been easy, nor will be the years that lie ahead. But I get through my days by counting my blessings. I know I would not have survived much longer in captivity and am so thankful to the military men and women who played a part in my rescue.
I now have an 8-year-old daughter, Dakota, who is the light of my life. She is the very source of my happiness, which makes me even more determined. There have been days of hardship when I wanted to give up, but then I look at her and I know that everything I have done over the past decade has been for her.
With my daughter’s support, I reached my goal of becoming a teacher and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. With my daughter at my side, like a torch lighting my way, I decided to further my education and have now earned a master’s degree in communication studies.
Life has been hectic, to say the least. This life has made me so thankful for all the love, support, and prayers that have been extended to me. And I am so grateful for the kindness and compassion that has been extended to the soldiers in my unit. Each day, I am a survivor of the ambush, captivity, and even harsh criticism. But I will never give up. I have the strength of so many friends, family, and supporters that outweigh the negativity.
As for me, I was just a 19-year-old private first class in the U.S. Army following commands, hoping to see the world and get an education. Every day that I meet, I meet with a smile because I am miraculously here. Somehow. With each day, I say a prayer for the military men and women stationed throughout the world still serving and protecting our great country. And that they be protected from the horrible unknowns.