Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum found out what combat stress was in the back of a pickup during the first Gulf War in 1991 when one of her Iraqi captors unzipped her flight suit and, as she lay there with two broken arms and an injured eye, sexually assaulted her.
The reed-thin Army physician, whose Black Hawk helicopter had been shot down, became a symbol of everything America was worried about in sending women to war. Her successful return home — sane and not that much the worse for her ordeal — became a powerful argument for the irrelevance of gender in conditions of indiscriminate violence.
To Cornum, it was also an example of how a strong constitution and positive thinking can help soldiers, male and female, through unthinkable ordeals.
“As I was crashing, I knew that my only two choices were either I was going to be dead or I was going to be a prisoner, so when I became a prisoner, my first thought was how grateful I was [that] I was a prisoner,” she said in an interview.
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