EUGENE, Ore. -- After starting her life over, Private First Class Erin McLyman was determined to make the most of each day.
The U.S. Army soldier and 2001 Sheldon High School graduate died March 13 in Balad, Iraq, after being wounded in a mortar attack.
"The military was something very dear for her. She chose to go back in," said Dee Dee Johnson, McLyman's friend from the Federal Way, Wash., area. "The good thing is, she died doing what she loved to do. That's what she wanted to do."
McLyman decided to join the military in high school after overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol .
She told KVAL in 2001 that she had dropped out of school at one point, but she had returned to Sheldon and joined the dance team. She spoke about resisting the temptation to do drugs as she focused on her goal of joining the U.S. Air Force.
"It was really cool for me to see that she did that. She turned her life around and i'm in that same process," said Thomas Evans, who grew up across the street from the McLyman family. He described McLyman as caring and vibrant. "She just inspired people to be better," Evans said.
"She just brought life out in everybody," said Johnson. "She was kind hearted, gentle, feisty. Just a very real person."
Johnson described McLyman's laughter. "She had a wonderful laugh. It was contagious. When she laughed, you had to laugh."
McLyman served in the Air Force before joining the U.S. Army on Dec. 31, 2008. She was assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington in 2009 and deployed to Balad, Iraq, in August 2009, where she was a mechanic.
This was her first deployment with the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. She was awarded the rank of Private First Class after her death.
Her awards and decorations include the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and Air Force Training Ribbon.
McLyman lived in Federal Way, Wash., with her husband, who was also an Army solider. He left the Army one month ago.
Her father, Bob McLyman, told KVAL News a military funeral will be held on March 31 at Fort Lewis. Arrangements are being made for a service in Eugene.