12 years after her dramatic rescue, former POW Jessica Lynch feels 'blessed to be here'

by Sara Horn, |

ELIZABETH, W.Va. (Christian Examiner) -- Jessica Lynch knows that for most Americans, her name is synonymous with the Iraq War. They remember the dramatic video footage of a scared and injured 19-year-old Lynch being carried out of an Iraqi hospital on a stretcher by her rescuers – an elite Special Forces unit tasked with bringing the private first-class soldier home.

Guide me in the right direction so that I can get out of this hospital and help me, so that I can be rescued.

Lynch also remembers those moments, but with greater frequency than she'd prefer. For her, the nightmares and flashbacks of what happened to her in Iraq come daily.

Just nine days before her rescue, the military convoy she traveled in got lost and was ambushed. Eleven soldiers were killed, including Lynch's best friend, Lori Piestewa.

Lynch survived the ambush, but her back was broken; her legs and arms crushed. Her captors did very little to help with her injuries: what was done made things worse. Eventually, she was left completely alone.

In a recent interview with CNN, Lynch remembered talking with God while she lay there in that Iraqi hospital by herself.

"Guide me in the right direction so that I can get out of this hospital and help me, so that I can be rescued," she told God.

After she arrived back in her hometown of Elizabeth, West Virginia, the constant presence of media attention slowly faded. The million-dollar book deal was signed, and her book, I Am a Soldier, Too, released, and Lynch was ready to look at the future.

She met her fiancé in 2005, and two years later gave birth to their daughter, Dakota, something doctors initially told her might never happen because of her injuries.

On the surface she appeared happy, throwing herself into her studies or into her professional speaking events, working hard to get stronger through physical therapy.

But what Lynch didn't talk about was the emotional pain that was just buried below the surface.

The bad dreams. The sleepless nights. The multiple times she checked doors and locks before attempting to go to bed. She didn't discuss her struggles, or the dislocation she felt; she didn't share it with groups she was paid to speak to.

"People expect me to be doing OK," said Lynch. "They expect that I should be perfectly fine now."

The reoccurring nightmares and heavy emotions she experienced said differently. This spring, around the anniversary of her capture, she realized that just trying to get over her depression or the darkness she felt, on her own, wasn't working. She knew it was time to ask for help.

"I put up this wall, this barrier, it was my way of dealing with things," she said. "In the beginning, I was able to block everybody out, whereas now it's getting harder ...."

For the first time since she came home 12 years ago, Lynch is talking to a therapist and it's helping.

Lynch has endured more than 22 surgeries, and the challenge of daily and often painful physical therapy. She's also achieved one of her dreams by completing a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in communication. When she's feeling well, she enjoys substitute teaching.

While pain from nerve damage she sustained in the attack along with sleepless nights makes some days harder than others, Lynch has focused on what it means to have normalcy in her life, including new adventures with her daughter.

Next to her titles of "soldier," "teacher" and "mom," she's also added "actress."

Lynch plays the female lead of the political thriller, "One Church," a new Christian film, which releases in September from JCFilms.

This is the second film Lynch has done with JCFilms; the first was Virtuous, which released in 2014.