She Serves

The Piestewa Challenge: The Legacy Of A True Warrior

DeWayne Scott

Being a warrior is about doing what’s right, even when it’s difficult and it means sacrifice — something Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa knew all too well. 

Born in 1979 in Tuba City, Arizona, Piestewa went on to accomplish many things in her life and service to her country, but even at a young age, she had a strong sense of duty to the people around her. As The youngest of four with parents who shared Hopi and Hispanic backgrounds, Piestewa’s parents found it important for their children to understand and connect with both sides of their family’s heritage. Her parents distilled the Hopi belief in nonviolence and the importance of helping others, which provided a foundation for the life in which Piestewa lived. 

Piestewa was also very much involved in sports growing up. Beginning at the age of eight, Piestewa played shortstop for her city’s Little League Softball team. Just a day before her team reached the championship game, Piestewa broke her nose fielding a ground ball at practice. She was never deterred however and decided to play through the injury to help her teammates. Despite her family’s wishes, Piestewa helped lead her team to victory. Her brother Adam later said there was never a scenario where Piestewa “couldn’t not play.” 

Despite her passion for sports, Piestewa chose to follow the pathway of service, following in the footsteps of her family before her. With her grandfather serving in World War II and her father serving in Vietnam, the choice of joining the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) in high school was a no-brainer for Piestewa, and in a short time, she earned the title of commander. 

Those dreams of service were put on hold when Piestewa became pregnant before graduating high school; nevertheless, she married and moved to Fort Bragg in North Carolina where her then-husband was stationed. Piestewa had another baby before separating from her husband, which led her to move into her parent’s home with both children. Only thinking of her children’s future, Piestewa decided to revive her journey to the United States Army, and understood the level of security and stability that her service could bring to her family. 

“She wanted to fend for her children,” her mother, Priscilla, said. “She was going to build us a house and take care of us. I think she weighed the options that she had. We’re not rich enough to send her to college. When you have obstacles in your way, you take what life offers.” 

Upon completing basic training, Piestewa headed to Fort Lee, Virginia, where she continued her Advanced Individual Training, later being promoted to private first class. Piestewa was then assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas where she did clerical work and oversaw supplies. In January of 2003, Piestewa’s unit heard word that they would be deployed to Iraq. Recovering from shoulder surgery, Piestewa petitioned her way onto the unit, wanting to be in a position where she can help.

On March 23, 2003, Piestewa and others were attacked and taken captive after a rocket-propelled missile hit the left tire of their Humvee in the city of Nasiriyah, Iraq. While held prisoner in a Nasiriyah hospital, Piestewa could not properly recover from the injuries sustained in the initial attack, and she eventually succumbed to them. Piestewa died at the age of 23. Jessica Lynch, Piestewa’s roommate with whom she became close friends with at Fort Bliss, was the only member rescued by Special Forces.

After her death, Piestewa was promoted to specialist, and later on that year, the Grand Canyon State Games became the Lori Piestewa Games in honor of her love of sports. Additionally, Lisa Hallett of Wear Blue: Run To Remember wanted to find a way to hour not only Piestewa but all the women who have died in combat. Hallett, a Gold-Star spouse, created the Piestewa Challenge, a 177 mile annual run to honor the lives of the 177 women killed in action in the Global War on Terror.

Although Piestewa is the first Native American service member to be killed in combat on foreign soil as well as the first female service member killed in Iraq, she will forever be remembered as a true warrior. 

Photo credits:Shutterstock, Luke Air Force Base