Ex-POW Lynch Ends First Year of College

Three years after her capture and dramatic nighttime rescue in the early days of the Iraq war made her an instant celebrity, Jessica Lynch yearns for the ordinary.

She's just finished her first year at West Virginia University, where she's become an anonymous college student on a campus of thousands.

"I think people recognize who I am; they just don't make it obvious," Lynch, 23, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

"That's good for me because it gives me the opportunity to blend in and not stick out and really experience the college life just like they are."

Lynch, who joined the Army at 18 to see the world and earn money for college, attends WVU on a state scholarship. She grew up wanting to be a kindergarten teacher, but abandoned that idea after taking one education class.

"I haven't really found my direction of where I'm headed right now with everything I've been through," she said.

She changed her major to journalism because of her experience with the media and spends Wednesdays working at the campus radio station. Still, she's not sure if journalism is in her future.

"I enjoy broadcasting and I know I want to do something with children," she said. "I'd really like to start a kids TV program here in West Virginia. Something for kids who are in the hospital or have cancer."

Lynch's 507th Army Maintenance Company convoy was in Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, when it took a wrong turn and was attacked. Eleven American soldiers were killed and six were captured, including Lynch.

The former supply clerk suffered extensive injuries when her Humvee crashed during the firefight. Her videotaped rescue from Saddam Hospital by U.S. special forces nine days later transformed the soft-spoken woman into a hero.

She still has no feeling in her left leg and has to wear a brace to support her foot because of nerve damage. And Lynch says she still can't remember the events that filled the two hours after her convoy was hit.

"Right now, I have sort of this image of what could have happened," she said. "If I actually knew and it came back, I probably would have nightmares for the rest of my life."

Though she was once engaged to former Army Sgt. Ruben Contreras, she now has a new boyfriend in Parkersburg. She protects details about her private life, saying only she met him through family.

Lynch spends most of the week on campus, but often leaves town on weekends to visit her boyfriend or her parents.

"I want people to remember me as being a soldier who went over there and did my job fighting for our country, our freedom. Nothing special. ... I'm just a country girl at heart."