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Serving with honor

Joe Hettler | Friday, September 10, 2004

Standing on the roof of the Sadoon Police Station in Baghdad, Iraq May 25, Danielle Green heard the first rocket hit a nearby building. Instincts and training told her to lunge for her M-16. She grabbed her weapon and tried to switch the gun from safety to fire to defend herself.But Green never got the chance.A second rocket zoomed and exploded into Green’s left side. Her body went numb, except for the neck and head. As she tried to sit up, Green realized half her left arm was almost completely mutilated. “There was ringing in my ears and I couldn’t even hear the other seven rockets go off,” Green said.Soon, members of her platoon arrived, performed first aid and rushed her to a hospital across the river. She had her left hand and half her forearm amputated in the nearby Iraq hospital before recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.”I had a feeling I was going to get hurt when I went to Iraq,” said Green, from an Army hospital in Washington D.C. “It’s documented. But I knew I wouldn’t die there. If I died, I would die here on American soil. Once I got out there all the fear and anxiety [that I had] left. I was out there in the heat of battle.”In Germany, Green was comforted by a familiar face – Tim Woods, a Notre Dame graduate and the son of David and Eileen Woods. The Woods were neighbors with Irish head basketball coach Muffet McGraw. “[Tim’s] a doctor and he was in Germany. He looked at the chart and he must have remembered me from playing basketball,” Green said. “So his mom and dad happened to be in Germany. … I saw them and it made me realize Notre Dame alumni and friends are all over the world.” Almost three-and-a-half months after her injury, Green, a former standout player on Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, is upbeat and happy. She isn’t sure when she’ll leave the hospital for good, but doctors expect no long-term health problems. Back on American soil, Green will be part of this weekend’s flag ceremony before the Michigan football game. “I’m pretty excited,” Green said Tuesday. “I’m just honored that Notre Dame sees me as being worthy of doing something for the University. I consider myself a pretty calm person so right now I don’t feel the emotions, but I’m sure when I’m down there on the field – I’m pretty shy too – it’s just going to hit home and I actually might break down a little bit, but I hope I don’t.”Green played for Notre Dame’s basketball team from 1995-2000. She saw limited playing time as a freshman and sat out her sophomore season with a torn Achilles tendon. But her career took off in 1998, when she began playing on a regular basis. For the next three years, Green would be a mainstay in the starting lineup. She finished her career with 1,106 points, good enough to put her 17th on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list. She averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest during her career and was the top defender on each Irish team. In Green’s final three seasons, she helped the Irish reach the NCAA Tournament.”She was a defensive stopper,” McGraw said. “She’s been a big contributor to our program.”But it wasn’t Green’s abilities on the court that impressed McGraw the most.”She’s somebody that’s always been really disciplined,” McGraw said. “She’s always been a fighter. She’s been through a lot in her life, a life of adversity. I think she’s lucky to be alive, but she’s handled it so well. I’m certainly amazed and admire how she’s handled it.”After graduating with a degree in psychology in 1999, Green became a physical education instructor for a Chicago elementary school. She also helped coach ninth and 10th grade basketball.But after two years as a teacher, Green needed a change. “I just wanted some adventure in my life, some excitement,” she said. Green, who participated in ROTC during high school, enlisted in the armed forces in September 2002. “I talked to my dad about it and I prayed about it,” Green said. “I didn’t want to be 37, 38 saying, ‘Man, when I was 25, 26 I had the chance [to enlist in the military].’ So I just felt like I needed to seize the moment.”A year after enlisting, Green received the news she hoped never would arrive – she was heading to Iraq.”It started hitting home that, ‘Hey, I’m about to leave home and I may not come back,” she said. “It really gave me some jitters.”Green admits she thought about getting pregnant or pretending to go “crazy.” But her conscience prevailed, and she couldn’t lie to herself or the Army.”For some reason I have a conscience, my conscience eats at me,” Green said. “All these ideas that came to my mind, ethically it wasn’t right. When you sign on the dotted line, you have signed an oath to serve protect and defend your country. “After a while those words started echoing in my mind and I just knew I had to do what I had to do.”Green arrived in Iraq in January and began running HumVee missions with her unit’s commander. She was the gunner – the person who sits with half her body out of and half her body in the vehicle. It is the most dangerous position of HumVee operations. But Green didn’t mind being a gunner with the commander because she rarely went out for missions.That changed when Green was moved to a different HumVee unit. Once there, she began running missions all day, for eight to 12 hours.”If the vehicle is going to get hit the gunner’s probably going to be the first one, but I was thrilled to death that I was the gunner with the commander,” she said. “He’s in charge of entire company so I felt like I was big stuff since I was riding with him. I really didn’t feel like I was in that much danger because the commander’s team usually doesn’t go on a whole lot of missions, so my first couple of months in Iraq was relativity peaceful.”After being moved to second platoon, Green was injured while running a routine mission. But she has no regrets. She doesn’t see her efforts as extraordinary.”I can’t really say I felt I made a difference,” Green said. “A lot of people look at me as a hero, but I can’t even look at myself as a hero. I was just doing what I had to do. If I had a choice about going over, I wouldn’t have gone over there. But I didn’t have a choice.”Green now hopes to fully recover from her injuries, and become a counselor for the armed services or at the high school level. Regardless of what her future holds, Green knows what her goal will be. “I want to do something where I can talk to people and make them feel good about themselves and the directions and decisions they’re going to make in life,” she said. “I feel like that’s my niche in life.”