On March 23, 2003, just three days after the start of the invasion, a U.S. Army supply convoy traveling through Iraq took a wrong turn and was attacked in Nasiriyah, a key town on the road to Baghdad. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed and six captured, including Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old from West Virginia. She suffered spinal fractures, nerve damage and a shattered right arm, right foot and left leg when her Humvee crashed.
Originally listed as missing in action, Lynch's story gripped the nation and the world when the Pentagon announced that on April 1 she had been plucked from an Iraqi hospital by a Rangers unit, followed a day later with the release of dramatic footage of the rescue. In addition, the Rangers recovered the bodies of eight soldiers who had been killed in fighting with her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company. Stories also emerged of how Lynch had bravely fought off the initial attack.
Lynch was later airlifted for treatment in Germany and the United States. Following her release from hospital, she returned to a hero's welcome in her hometown, Palestine, W.Va., and the arms of her fiancÃ©, Sgt. Ruben Contreras, whom she had met during her military service. She also signed a deal, reported to be in excess of a million dollars, to write a book with former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, which went on to be a best-seller. In addition, she was the subject of an unauthorized TV movie, "Saving Jessica Lynch."
Many of the original details of the attack and rescue were later questioned by many media outlets, and much criticism leveled at the Pentagon for creating what was described as a media spectacle. However, Lynch's role and bravery in enduring her severe wounds has seldom been questioned.
Her book behind her and her injuries largely healed, Lynch, who received an honorable discharge from the Army, started classes in August 2005 at West Virginia University in Morgantown, one of several universities that offered her a scholarship so she could achieve her dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher.
She later switched her major to journalism, telling an audience at the university on January 31, 2006, that her experiences with the press after her rescue had led to her decision "I just wanted to do something more interesting," Lynch said with a grin, according to the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail.
Her relationship with Sgt. Contreras, however, faded. After postponing the wedding to 2004, the relationship cooled, leaving the pair as "just good friends," according to a spokesperson.
Fortunately for Lynch, it was not long before she had a couple of new loves in her life - first a new fiancÃ©, Wes Robinson, and on Jan. 9, 2007, a 7-pound, 10-ounce baby girl.
The couple named the baby Dakota Ann in honor of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, Lynch's tentmate and former Fort Bliss roommate, who was killed in the attack that injured Lynch. Ann was Piestewa's middle name, and Dakota came from the fact that Piestewa was part American Indian.
According to People magazine, Lynch, who still has some health problems from her time in Iraq, has moved to the Parkersburg campus of West Virginia University to be nearer her family and adapt to parenthood. The switch has led her to change her major back to elementary education - journalism is not offered in her new location.
She also told the Charleston Daily Mail that that she still gets lots of mail - including some that is none too complimentary.
"A lot of people hate me," Lynch, told the paper. "In the beginning, people thought I didn't deserve any attention or the book deal. I didn't ask for any of that, anyway. After the book came out, I was hated by a lot."
But she added, "People still want me to sign pictures, which is surprising. Four years later and you still want my autograph?"
According to the 2007 Daily Mail article, she obliges them as much as possible, but she doesn't have the time to sift through her ever-growing mountain of mail. When she returned to West Virginia in July 2003, she had more than 30,000 letters waiting for her - and she has several tote bags stuffed with unopened mail, some of it dating back to 2003.
"One day, I want to sit down and go through it," she said.
For now, the most important thing in life is her baby. Her mother, Dee Lynch, says she has taken to diapers and other duties like a duck to water.
"Jessi's a natural," she said. "You would think she's had Dakota forever."
On April 24, 2007, Lynch was back in the spotlight when she testified before a House committee investigating whether the Pentagon misled the American public about the experiences of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lynch was walking slowly, according to the Associated Press, when took her seat at the witness table along with relatives of former NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
"The bottom line," Lynch said in a determined tone, "is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales."
Despite the trauma of her capture and the continuing effects from her injuries, Lynch told the Morgantown, W.Va., Dominion Post in February 2008 that she would still join the Army and has "no regrets."
"My whole life now is getting up in the morning, going to school and taking care of my daughter," she told the paper.
Well, not quite. Lynch recently helped launch a campaign to help raise money for West Virginia University Children's Hospital in Morgantown.
According to KDKA in Pittsburgh, she is launching a new fundraising effort, called "Jessi's Pals," which will donate stuffed animals to patients at the hospital.
She also raises money for the Jessica Lynch Foundation, which was founded soon after her return from Iraq and helps children of veterans.