The latest Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier reported killed in Iraq overcame drug addiction in her teen years and later served in the Air Force and Army before dying from mortar fire on her first deployment.
Pvt. Erin L. McLyman of Federal Way was killed Saturday at Joint Base Balad, where she served as a wheeled vehicle mechanic with 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The 26-year-old is the fourth soldier from the Stryker brigade to die since it deployed in August; the first three were not combat-related.
Her death is the first from a hostile incident in Iraq for any Washington service member since Feb. 15, 2009.
And, to underscore the increasing role women play in combat zones, three of the past four Lewis-McChord soldiers to die in Iraq have been women.
McLyman’s death was announced Monday by officials receiving her remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The Pentagon and Lewis-McChord confirmed the news and provided more details Tuesday.
It’s unclear when McLyman joined the Air Force, but she enlisted in the Army on New Year’s Eve 2008. She was assigned to Fort Lewis on April 6, 2009, and served with the 296th Brigade Support Battalion.
“She was strong-willed and full-spirited,” her neighbor, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Shelley, told The News Tribune. “She was always having a good time.”
Shelley, a Lewis-McChord soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, said he knew McLyman for 21/2 years and considered her a friend. Shelley would often see McLyman and her husband, Bryan, on their way to work. He and the couple had each other over for cookouts at their Federal Way apartment units when the weather was nice.
“I don’t know what her politics were on the war, but I do know she was proud to be in the Army,” Shelley said. “She was just a happy, nice person, and that’s what people should focus on today.”
Enemy mortar and rocket attacks were once so ubiquitous at Balad that the base was known as “Mortaritaville” by units that served there, including the local 81st Brigade of the Washington National Guard.
Such attacks have fallen at Balad and across the country, but warning sirens are still a common part of life while deployed.
McLyman was the center of news stories in Oregon nine years ago, when she was 17. She talked openly about her addictions, which began at age 9 when she started stealing beer from her dad.
By 12, she told the Eugene Register-Guard, she was a drug addict. She told KVAL-TV of Eugene: “I drank, smoked a lot of weed, marijuana, used crank and cocaine and speed, methamphetamines.”
Her grades dropped, she skipped class and she would disappear for a day or two at a time. She entered rehab after an arrest for underage drinking but continued to use drugs. She admitted getting high in front of her younger sister, then 9.
She was expelled from Sheldon High School as a freshman, moved to California to live with an aunt and returned to Eugene to complete a drug rehab program, the Register-Guard reported. She enrolled in classes at a local community college, convinced a counselor to let her return to Sheldon and later attended day and night classes to catch up on graduation requirements.
She graduated on time and told KVAL she planned on joining the Air Force after high school.
Bob McLyman, her father, told the TV station his daughter’s turnaround was astonishing. “I’d say she’s got a conscience now,” he said. “Before there was no conscience, no feeling.”
A message left at McLyman’s home Tuesday was not returned.
Scott Fontaine: 253-597-8646