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Frentz is not negative by nature. Six years ago, she was queen of the prom, valedictorian and the student voted most likely to succeed at Wakulla County High School outside Tallahassee, Fla. At the University of Florida, she signed up for ROTC and discovered she enjoyed the regimen of the military. She joined the Air Force after graduation in 2002.
Since the attack, Frentz has shown remarkable physical progress. She still has open wounds in her right hand and elbow, but with the hole in her knee filled with matrix, a collagen product, it now bends almost perfectly. She has lost count of the number of times doctors have harvested skin from her thighs to graft onto her burned torso and arm. She's had five operations on her elbow alone and must wear a full bodysuit--"my black catsuit," she calls it--to prevent further scarring. She had to learn how to walk through her pain after surgeons took the tough skin from the sole of her left foot to remake her right palm.
The damage to her self-image from the burns has been harder to repair, however. "I don't have posttraumatic stress like the others. For me it's the body-image issue," she says, calmly analyzing herself. She can't bear to look at herself in the mirror. "You can look at a guy with a scar, and some people think it's sexy. It's never sexy on a woman," she says. "My whole arm, my palms just don't look normal." She wonders if guys will ever find her attractive again. "If a guy doesn't like me because of this, that's their problem," she says, trying hard not to cry, then giving in. "I'm sorry I'm crying," she whispers, then straightens up. She has a mantra she repeats to herself and others. "It will be O.K. one day," she says, "but right now is the hard part."
She will not comment on her politics, but when asked whether she regrets going to Iraq, there is a long silence, with no answer. For Frentz, religion hasn't been the solace it is for her mother Jill and her fraternal twin Tara. "People go through life not realizing what they have, and I didn't. I just didn't need this lesson," she says. "I've been, at times, very mad with God for letting this happen to me."
Frentz, now 28, plans to stay in the Air Force, re-upping when her stint expires at the end of May 2006. She's been promised a job at the Air Force base in Aviano, Italy, once she heals, possibly as early as this summer. She wonders whether her scars might actually serve her in a new assignment. In the military, she says, the guys always ask first how a woman soldier looks, not how well she does her job. "I will have the scars to show what I've been through, and no one will be able to doubt me. I have a lot of credibility now. This happened to me, and it stinks real bad, but I've got to use it," she says. "I always felt there was something missing in me--a confidence. I thought you had to be born with it. Now I think it's latent in me, and I look forward to my career." --By Cathy Booth Thomas/ San Antonio. With reporting by Michael Peltier/ Tallahassee
•SPECIALIST JIM BATCHELOR
Shot Between the Eyes