Pfc. Erin McLyman wanted to return to Iraq. A broken neck couldn't stop her.
The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier suffered the injury during leave earlier this year. She told her Stryker commanders in the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that she planned to come back as quickly as she could.
Against the odds, McLyman, 26, rejoined her comrades Feb. 14. And less than a month later, an indirect-fire round killed the Federal Way resident.
She was walking to dinner with two friends March 13 when a round exploded, wounding all three. McLyman succumbed to her injuries an hour later; her two friends have since recovered.
“It is no secret that she quite easily could have parlayed her circumstance to personal advantage,” Lt. Col. Elisabeth Crooks said Wednesday during McLyman’s memorial service at Lewis-McChord. “But Pfc. McLyman’s sense of duty and loyalty to her team drove her back to theater to stand beside Arrowhead soldiers in combat, once again.”
Crooks was reading comments made by Lt. Col. Hayden Hungerford, commander of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, during a memorial service earlier this month in Iraq. Crooks didn’t give the date or events that led to McLyman’s injury. But she talked of an extensive recovery period and said there was initially little hope McLyman would be medically cleared to return to combat.
It’s also unclear where the fatal attack took place. A Pentagon news release puts the incident site in Balad. But eulogies at Wednesday’s service point to McLyman serving at Combat Outpost Cobra in northern Diyala province.
There, the battalion commander said in his message, McLyman most recently served as a member of the female search team at checkpoints staffed by Kurdish, Arab Iraqi and American security forces.
“Up until the moment her life ended, she was where she wanted to be, with the people and friends she wanted to be with, doing what she wanted to do with her life,” chaplain Maj. Mark Gilderhus said.
McLyman, a native of Eugene, Ore., was the fourth member of 3rd Brigade to die during its yearlong deployment to Iraq, but the first to die from enemy attack.
She joined the Air Force in July 2001, shortly after she graduated high school, and served for three years as a supply management journeyman. She later joined the Oregon National Guard and then enlisted in the Army in December 2008.
McLyman trained as a vehicle mechanic and arrived at Fort Lewis in April 2009. Her friends said Wednesday that they most remembered her ability to talk to anyone and make friends easily.
“It was unexplainable about how she could become an instant friend to all she met,” said Spc. Ryan Monohan, who befriended McLyman when she was assigned to the battalion rear detachment. “Over the next month (after they met), Erin and I had many chats, discussing the many dilemmas life throws at you. Erin always knew what to say to me and how to make me feel better.”
Later, Monohan added, “She was downright the most amazing woman I have ever met in my life.”
Scott Fontaine: 253-597-8646