The latest Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier killed overseas overcame drug addiction during her teenage years and later served in the Air Force and Army before dying from mortar fire on her first deployment.
Pvt. Erin L. McLyman of Federal Way was killed Saturday at Joint Base Balad, where she served as a wheeled vehicle mechanic with 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The 26-year-old is the fourth soldier from the brigade to die since it deployed in August. Her death was announced Monday by officials receiving her remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and the Pentagon and Lewis-McChord confirmed the news and provided more details Tuesday.
Her death is the first from a hostile incident in Iraq for a Washington service member in more than a year, since a roadside bomb killed Staff Sgt. Sean Diamond of the 14th Engineer Battalion on Feb. 15, 2009.
And, to underscore the increasing role women play in combat zones, three of the past four Lewis-McChord soldiers killed in Iraq have been women.
It’s unclear when McLyman joined the Air Force, but she enlisted in the Army on New Year’s Eve 2008. She was assigned to Fort Lewis on April 6, 2009, and served with the 296th Brigade Support Battalion.
“She was strong-willed and full-spirited,” her neighbor, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Shelley told The News Tribune. “She was always having a good time.”
Shelley, a Lewis-McChord soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, said he McLyman for 2½ years and considered her a friend. Shelley would often see McLyman and her husband, Bryan, on their way to work. They had each other over for cookouts when the weather was nice.
Bryan told his neighbor Monday what happened. He previously served with a Stryker brigade at Lewis-McChord, Shelley said.
“I don’t know what her politics were on the war, but I do know she was proud to be in the Army,” Shelley said. “She was just a happy, nice person, and that’s what people should focus on today.”
Indirect fire attacks were once so ubiquitous at Balad the base was nicknamed “motaritaville.” Such attacks steeply have fallen at Balad and across the country, but warning sirens are still a common feature of deployment life.
McLyman, then 17, was the centerpiece of stories on KVAL-TV and in the Eugene Register-Guard nine years ago. She talked openly about her substance-abuse addictions, which began at age 9 when she started stealing beer from her dad.
By 12, she told the newspaper, she was a drug addict. She told KVAL of Eugene, “I drank, smoked a lot of weed, marijuana, used crank and cocaine and speed, methamphetamines.”
Her grades dropped, she skipped class and she would disappear for a day or two at a time. She entered rehab after an arrest for underage drinking but continued to use drugs. She admitted getting high in front of her younger sister, then 9.
She was expelled from Sheldon High School as a freshman, lived to California to live with an aunt and returned to Eugene to complete a drug rehab program, the Register-Guard reported. She enrolled in classes at a local community college, convinced a counselor to let her return to Sheldon and later attended day and night classes to catch up on graduation requirements.
She graduated on time and had earlier told KVAL she planned on joining the Air Force after school.
Bob McLyman, her father, told the television station her daughter’s turnaround after drug abuse was astonishing. A message left at McLyman’s home was not returned.
“I’d say she’s got a conscience now,” he said. “Before there was no conscience, no feeling.”