Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Lease on Her Life


Jennifer Pacanowski joined the Army to climb out of debt. She ended up in the hole.

It was July 2004 and Jennifer Pacanowski was headed home to Pennsylvania after six months as a medic in Iraq. Like most other soldiers in the Army, she had two weeks at home to "rest and relax" before returning to the combat zone. "It's kind of a vacation from war," she says.

But for Pacanowski, this summer vacation did not involve vegging in front of the TV or lazing on the beach; she didn't waste a moment of her break. She visited the people she was close to, spent a few days in Wildwood, New Jersey, "reliving a childhood vacation," and hosted a big barbecue for her friends and family.

"I didn't think I was ever going to see them again," she says. "I was basically preparing to die."

Pacanowski joined the Army on April 23, 2003, a month after the Iraq War began. It was a week before the "Mission Accomplished" banner flashed across television screens nationwide, as President Bush announced, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Like many Americans, Pacanowski and her family thought the war was, for the most part, over.

But by the time of her R & R break in 2004, she could not envision the war's end - nor a way out of her predicament. Her small consolation was that, should she get out of the war alive, she'd be student-loan-free and well on her way to beginning a career in nursing.

However, three days into R & R, Pacanowski received a letter that turned the horror of her term in Iraq to a pointless hell. It was a notice from the US Army, explaining that the government would not pay off her college loans, despite previous guarantees.

Devastated, carrying both her financial burden and a growing feeling that Iraqis wanted the US troops out, Pacanowski dragged herself back for five and half more months of deployment. Loyalty was her only motivation not to desert. >>MORE

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