AS the deputy commander at United States Central Command from 2001 to 2003, I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya in 2003 and she was taken prisoner. I feel compelled to respond to accusations that have been made in recent days by several politicians.
The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic. Based on these reports, politicians from her home state, West Virginia, wanted the military to award her the Medal of Honor. Their request rose up the ladder until finally it reached me.
But initial combat reports are often wrong. Time must always be taken to thoroughly investigate all claims. In the case of Private Lynch, additional time was needed, since she was suffering from combat shock and loss of memory; facts, therefore, had to be gathered from other sources. The military simply didn’t know at that point whether her actions merited a medal.
This is why, when the request landed on my desk, I told the politicians that we’d need to wait. I made it clear that no one would be awarded anything until all of the evidence was reviewed.
The politicians did not like this. They called repeatedly, through their Congressional liaison, and pressured us to recommend her for the medal, even before all the evidence had been analyzed. I would not relent and we had many heated discussions.
The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.
As it turned out, after a careful review of the facts, the military concluded that the initial reports were incorrect. Ballistic tests on Private Lynch’s weapon demonstrated that she had never fired; she had merely been a passenger in a vehicle that went astray, came under fire and crashed. Private Lynch was badly hurt, and in her condition, she could not fight back. Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic.
(It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week, the “story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting” was not true.)
Accusations that the military played up Private Lynch’s rescue for its own publicity purposes are also false. As someone who witnessed the operation from the planning to the execution, I can tell you it was one of the most spectacularly executed rescues I’ve seen in my 36-year career. Our receiving word of Private Lynch’s rescue — and subsequently, news of the rescue of the other prisoners — was a high point of the war for all of us at CentCom.
None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period. We never ordered the operation filmed — the troops who executed it decided to film it on their own. Ultimately, it was good that they did, not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.
A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself is not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts. For these politicians to step forward now and accuse the military of capitalizing on the Jessica Lynch story is utter hypocrisy.