TIME: When the Army recruiter came to your house, what did he say?
JESSICA LYNCH: He talked about how you could travel and see all these different kinds of places. And then he was like, "You can get an education while you go there." And I was like, "Yeah, you know that would be cool if I could have a job plus go to school at the same time. Yeah, that would be cool."
TIME: You were still here in Palestine, W.Va., on Sept. 11, right? What was that like?
JL: I was scared, actually, myself because I knew that a week later I would be going off to the Army, and that scared me. So I did try to back out of it. But then I thought, Nah. I still wanted to go and serve my country, even if it did mean going over there, but I never actually thought I'd get hurt or anything.
TIME: And you re-enlisted a year ago while still stationed in Texas?
JL: Yes, I signed a paper saying they would have to send me to Hawaii if I re-enlisted.
TIME: And then, in between, you learned you were going to Iraq?
JL: That just happened. It was time for deployment.
TIME: What did they tell you to expect? What you trained for [maintenance and supply] obviously wasn't what happened.
JL: We had to do the whole weapons qualification again to make sure that we knew how to operate a weapon, but also we did a lot of training with gas masks. In a sense we were ready, but we weren't ready for an ambush attack.
TIME: Did you feel your commanding officer had the training and equipment he needed to do his job?
JL: Yeah, I think he did. I think it was just all a big mistake that happened. Just fatigue, sleepiness, the whole thing--we were just not prepared.
TIME: What were your impressions when you got there?
JL: It was completely not what I was expecting.
TIME: What were you expecting?
JL: At least roads. But all that was really there was sand.
TIME: There is a certain point at which people are firing on you.
JL: It was scary. It was one of the most scary times you could possibly be in. I mean it was like, Oh, God, you know, help me get through it. There was nothing you could do but fire back. But since my weapon jammed, there was nothing I could do to defend myself. I couldn't defend the four other people in my vehicle. It just felt like it was never going to end.
TIME: If your weapon hadn't jammed, you would have been ...
JL: Firing, of course. But it would still have been nervous and scary.
TIME: You said they hadn't trained you for an ambush?
JL: Yeah, well, I don't really know how you could train someone for an ambush. I guess it was just more, Defend yourself, get out of there alive.
TIME: Why do you think they didn't kill you like they killed the others?
JL: They could have. I don't know. God saved me. That's one of God's prayers, I guess.
TIME: At one point at the Nasiriyah hospital, some of the orderlies put you in an ambulance. Did you know that they were trying to take you back to the Americans then?