Few people other than those who loved her have ever heard the story of Theresa Lynn Flannery. Like so many who have served in the United States military, she is an unsung hero. In many ways, she exemplifies the costs of war as well as the bravery of those who have chosen to fight for out nation.
Flannery had served in the Army as a combat engineer before joining the Reserves. In 2004 she was in Iraq, and volunteered for a mission to Najaf during an annual religious pilgrimage. She was one of a very few American troops at the compound of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Most of the Coalition forces were Spanish and El Salvadoran.
Najaf was one of the strongholds of the militia of anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. On April 4, 2004, a protest had been called by al-Sadr and tens of thousands of his supporters marched on the CPA compound. Hidden in that crowd were hundreds of armed gunmen, intent on overrunning the compound and freeing one of their leaders who had been arrested for murder.
Flannery told her story in an e-mail to a friend:
“Hey you I did get my self in some trouble when you left. I was almost killed. Check lexingtonheraldleader, you will see I was a hero for a day and made a name for myself. All the way to the pentagon.
I took someone out and killed him with a 400 meter shot. I saved 3 peoples lives with 3 different gunshot wounds. I fought with Not for your eyes security and the el sals for 11 1/2 hours before special forces showed up I was the only female you would have been proud. I was almost killed and still kept fighting. Just like they taught us. Nobody thought I could have done something like that but hell I didn’t either. So when We came under fire I did what I had to to survive and that was fight. One of the security guys said when he yelled for me to get down. when I hit the ground the 3 bullets were within an inch of my Kevlar. I couldn’t move I was pinned down and I thought I was hit. Because every inch of my body hurt. They thought I was dead. But when the shooting stopped i lifted my head enough to where they knew I was ok. And they covered me so I could crawl to them and then they checked me from head to toe like big brothers and then I was [TOS Violation] and got back up and started shooting again.
But the next day I hurt from head to toe. And I was bruised and cut from head to toe. Busted 1 knee and fractured right hand in four places and busted chin. But I still kept fighting until my mission in Najaf was over then I flew back to Baghdad on helicopter with my group and got x rays and my hand was broke. Then I went back to the base dropped off my gear and went to go see my boss and the general was outside with about 4 officers including my boss. I said sir I would salute you but and he goes no I want a hug, because you did us proud.“
Here’s how the Department of Defense described the attack:
“Spanish and Salvadoran troops in Najaf came under attack from gunmen hiding in a crowd of protesters, coalition officials said in Baghdad today.
One El Salvadoran soldier was killed, and 12 El Salvadoran soldiers and one U.S. soldier were wounded when a large number of men, many dressed in black, attacked a Coalition base with small-arms fire, said a coalition news release. The wounded were transported to the 31st Combat Support Hospital for treatment.
Coalition forces including U.S. Air Force aircraft and U.S. Army gunships responded to the attacks. The situation in Najaf is now stabilized, senior military officials said in a background briefing earlier in the day.
Officials said the attacks began at about 11:45 a.m. Iraq time, when a vehicle leaving an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps base came under small-arms fire. From about noon to 2:30 p.m., the coalition base came under attack from “a large number of personnel.”
Coalition authorities said reports that hundreds of civilian casualties resulted from the attacks were incorrect. “Any notion that the Spanish fired on the protesters in the middle of a peaceful demonstration would not be consistent with what we saw on the ground,” a senior military official said. Authorities indicated they would have more information as officials in Najaf gather the facts.
The attacks did come as followers of anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched on the compound reportedly in protest of a Sadr aide detention.“
The Lexington Herald-Leader tells that Flannery was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with V and a Purple Heart for her actions that day. She reached the rank of Sergeant and left the Army with an 85% disability. It seems that her heart never left her comrades, though.
She lived in Lexington, KY, and worked at the VA Center there. She had completed her bachelor’s degree and was working on her master’s.
Theresa Lynn Flannery grew up in Berea, KY. She graduated from Madison Southern High School in 1997. At age 13 she won the Miss Teen Madison County pageant and was first runner up for Miss Madison County at 18, gaining the title when the winner was unable to serve. Her father and both brothers served with the Lexington Police Department and both brothers have also served in the military.
Flannery was found deceased while visiting friends in North Carolina on May 20, 2010. An official cause of death has not been released.
The Lexington Herald-Leader quotes her father and mother:
“Preliminary autopsy results were inconclusive. But her father, David Flannery, has no doubt that her death was related to the physical and emotional scars she carried from her experiences in Iraq.
“That’s my gut feeling,” he said. “Theresa had been dealing with some horrible problems from PTSD. She was being treated for that, and they kept changing the medication she was taking. She was on 85 percent disability from the Army. She had lost a lot of weight.”Ms. Flannery leaves behind a son, Nicholas Flannery, 5.
By all accounts, she lived life to the fullest and threw herself into everything she undertook, whether it was playing sports or soldiering. Her mother, Maggie Flannery, used to call her “a 5-foot-3 fireball.”
… David Flannery says his daughter’s problems began soon after her Iraq tour ended at the close of 2004. She had nightmares, he said, and she went through periods of deep depression. Memories of Iraq could send her into tears. Her father said she was invited to speak at a military memorial event in Richmond a few years ago, but she became too emotional to finish her speech.”There were a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “They would put her on some drug for a few months and it would help. Then, it would stop working and they would switch to another drug. It was really hard for her, particularly trying to raise her son.“”