Student was part of dramatic POW rescue in Iraq

October 09, 2003

University Park, Pa. -- A Penn State sophomore, one of the many who answered their country's call to service, is back at the books after taking part in the celebrated rescue of POW Jessica Lynch.

Pvt. Lynch was part of an Army convoy that took a wrong turn and ran into an Iraqi ambush on March 23. In the chaos that ensued, 11 American soldiers died and six wounded soldiers were captured. Lynch's rescue, a nighttime raid on the hospital where she and the other prisoners of war were being held, made international headlines last April.

Christopher Yanik, 24, a Dallas, Pa., native, was part of that raid. "I'll never forget it," he said.

Yanik served four years in the U.S. Army. He was a specialist in the Rangers unit serving in special operations. He did combat tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq before being discharged in August and enrolling at Penn State.
Yanik is one of the many Penn State students who have served their country as a result of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. A total of 255 students have taken military withdrawal from the University to report for active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Yanik, who completed an associate degree in liberal arts from Lackawanna College in Scranton, said he joined the Army for a number of reasons.

"I wanted to serve my country, to defend freedom," he said, but, "I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I needed some direction in my life."

Last April, that direction took him to a rooftop in Nasariyah where he manned a machine gun while about 100 special ops raided a hospital.

"We had intelligence that a possible POW was alive," he said. From his position providing security, Yanik didn't see Lynch or her rescue from inside the hospital, but he said he wouldn't forget the streets of Nasariyah or the sporadic gunfire coming from the darkness.

He said he's followed Lynch's story through the media — her return to West Virginia, the book deal, etc.

"I know she went through a lot," he said, adding that he takes issue with press accounts that the rescue was staged. "That's not true at all," he said. "It was very real — the bullets were flying."

Yanik also took part in a grisly mission. He helped retrieve nine dead American soldiers that were buried in shallow graves and return their remains to the United States.

"They were buried in a soccer field, about three feet under," he said.

Now Yanik is back in civvies, taking notes and listening to professors as he works toward a bachelor's degree. He has some interest in a career with a federal agency. He said he enjoys his freedom from following orders, but the transition from soldier to student is incomplete.

"I tell everyone I'm still a soldier living in a civilian world," he said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 20, 2009