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Ex-POW Lynch back in the U.S.A.

Lynch is carried from a C-17 transport plane at Andrews Air Force Base Saturday.

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ANDREWS Air Force Base, Maryland (CNN) -- U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch returned to the United States late Saturday afternoon, nearly three weeks after her unit was ambushed in the Iraqi desert and she was taken prisoner.

Lynch arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., aboard a C-17 transport from Germany carrying 49 other injured troops and was taken to nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center for continued treatment.

There was little fanfare for the 19-year-old former POW whose story has grabbed headlines since her dramatic rescue earlier this month from a hospital in southern Iraq where she was being held.

Accompanied by her parents, Lynch was third off the plane, carried on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance.

The military kept onlookers well away, and more than a dozen people surrounding her stretcher prevented the media from getting any glimpse of the wounded soldier.

Lynch, recovering from two broken legs, a broken arm and a fractured back, spent 10 days at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Her parents flew to Germany last Sunday from their home in Palestine, West Virginia. In a statement released shortly before they left Landstuhl, her parents said they "blessed by the tremendous outpouring of support for our daughter, Jessi."

"People from across West Virginia, the United States -- everywhere in the world -- have offered comfort and aid. On behalf of Jessi, our family would like to offer our deepest, most sincere thanks for this show of affection."

The Lynches also wrote they could not leave Germany "without expressing our gratitude to the professionals at Landstuhl."

Lynch's parents followed their daughter off the plane Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
Lynch's parents followed their daughter off the plane Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

"We truly believe Jessi would not have made such great progress in her recovery had it not been for their care and concern. We are forever thankful for the compassion with which they have treated her and the other injured service members."

Lynch and other members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, got into a firefight March 23 with Iraqi forces in Nasiriya after their convoy made a wrong turn.

Nine soldiers were killed. Five other company members were seen on Iraqi TV shortly after their capture and remain listed as prisoners of war. Lynch was listed as missing in action along with several others.

Ten days later, acting on information from the CIA and more than one Iraqi source, U.S. Special Forces led a team of Army Rangers, Marines, Navy SEALs and airmen into hostile fire at the hospital to rescue Lynch, U.S. government sources said.

The rescue team also recovered the bodies of seven soldiers from the 507th and a soldier from another unit killed in the firefight, the Army said.

In their statement Saturday, Lynch's parents acknowledged the Iraqis who tipped U.S. authorities to her whereabouts and the U.S. troops who rescued her.

Military and security personnel surround Lynch's stretcher after it's carried off a C-17 aircraft on Saturday.
Military and security personnel surround Lynch's stretcher after it's carried off a C-17 aircraft on Saturday.

"It is almost impossible to express how grateful we are to the brave American service members who participated in Jessi's rescue and to the courageous Iraqi citizens who risked their lives to make her rescue possible. Jessi is alive because of their sacrifices."

In Palestine, a group of friends and neighbors gathered to watch Lynch's return on television.

"Everyone's just glad she's just coming back to the United States," said Anita Lockhart, a friend of the Lynch family. "Our only concern is that Jessi get home and get well."

Reporter David Jolley contributed to this report.

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