Spc. Lori Piestewa
Self-sacrificing soldier

On March 23, 2003, Private First Class Lori Ann Piestewa became the first American woman soldier killed in the Iraq war, and the first Native American woman to die in combat in the service of the United States.

Lori Piestewa didn't have to be in Iraq.

Because of a shoulder injury, Piestewa had medical clearance to stay home, but chose to deploy because of her friendship with Jessica Lynch.

The two women had roomed together at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they joined the 507th Maintenance Company. The 507th is responsible for repairing trucks, heavy equipment, and missile systems; their motto is "Just Fix It."

Four days after the war began, the 507th was part of a convoy driving north through the Iraqi desert near Al Nasiriya when it was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. The Humvee that Piestewa was driving was riddled with bullets when she pulled up to the the front of the line so the officer she was carrying could confer with the unit's captain.

Knowing that she'd be ordered to return to the back of the unit, which was facing the brunt of the ambush, the captain's driver offered to switch places with her.

Piestewa responded that she was sticking with her mission and drove back toward the column's rear and into the chaotic battle. According to Lynch, Piestewa navigated through gunfire and debris, circling around twice to help crippled vehicles before a rocket-propelled grenade hit Piestewa's Humvee.

The impact of the grenade, sustained on the driver's side, forced the vehicle to swerve into a 5-ton tractor trailer, instantly killing three soldiers. Piestewa and Lynch, both injured badly but still alive, were taken to an Iraqi hospital. Piestewa died shortly after arriving.

After her death, the Army promoted Piestewa from private first class to specialist first class. On Memorial Day, she was remembered with rose petals in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Landmarks in her native Arizona are being re-named in her honor.

Piestewa's most lasting memorial, though, are her children, Brandon and Carla; the two are being raised by their grandparents. Brandon, the older child, knows his mother is gone forever: he thinks of her as a guardian angel.

In the Hopi tradition, though, souls return not as angels, but as moisture from the sky. It snowed in Tuba City in April, not long after Piestewa died in the Iraqi desert. Her family believes that the snowfall was the spirit of Piestewa, sending them a message of peace.

Beliefnet member Yonagvsgi:
"The American Indian community & the country have been touched by Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa's death. Many of us have come to view her as Little Hopi Sister, Cousin, Fellow Soldier or Fellow Mom in our hearts prayers & thoughts."

Beliefnet member Calixto:
"I offer praise to this warrior who went bravely to war and bravely fought and died there. She lived and died with honor."

More on Lori Piestewa: Beliefnet memorial
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