'Lost child' grew up to be a decorated soldier
U.S. Army Spec. Erin McLyman, 26, a Federal Way resident who had turned her life around as a high-school student, died Saturday in Iraq after enemy forces attacked her base with mortar fire.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Of all the honors U.S. Army Spec. Erin McLyman would earn in her 26 years, maybe none was more special than her high-school diploma.
Nine years ago, she graduated from Sheldon High in Eugene, Ore., along with her original classmates — quite an achievement for a girl who'd left school early on and spent more than a year dealing with personal issues.
"She came into high school as a lost child," said John Lindsley, who was Sheldon High's assistant vice principal when Spec. McLyman was a student. "She wasn't accomplishing anything in the classroom."
Her ultimate metamorphosis would earn her the school's Turnaround Achievement Award.
"It was just a huge transformation," said Lindsley, now retired. "It's what we would want all our students to do."
Spec. McLyman, of Federal Way, died Saturday in Balad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked her base with mortar fire. According to the Department of Defense, she was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and had been assigned to the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic.
She had also spent time in the Air Force before her Army service. Among her military awards and decorations are the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Air Force Training Ribbon.
With her red hair and tall frame, Spec. McLyman was hard to miss, making it that much harder for her to skip out of class as a high-school freshman. But she did, said former administrator Lindsley. "It was kind of a game of fox and hound that first year," he said.
She left school with no credits, but somehow managed to turn her life around.
"When she came back, she was truly a changed human being," Lindsley said.
In addition to trying to complete four years of schooling in just 2 ½, she was a member of Sheldon High's decorated dance team.
Her drive and outgoing personality made her well-known at the school.
"We got to see her grow and blossom into a great human being," Lindsley said.
At least 4,385 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have died in the Iraqi conflict since it began in March 2003, according to The Associated Press.
Spec. McLyman's grandmother, Betty McDonald of Eugene, is a military veteran herself, serving in the Korean War. She knew the risks her granddaughter took by enlisting. "We're those kinds of people," McDonald said. "When we think we are called, we go."
Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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