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Family of slain Marine recalls her pride in serving in Iraq

R.I. woman, 21, killed in Fallujah suicide bombing

PROVIDENCE -- When Holly Charette enlisted in the Marine Corps after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, her family was uneasy about her decision -- and told her so.

''We just said that it's dangerous, and things are getting crazier and crazier in the world," Edward Roberts recalled after his stepdaughter's death.

But the blond former cheerleader wanted to join, motivated partly by a sense of patriotic duty and partly by a desire to make a difference.

The 21-year-old Marine from Rhode Island was killed June 23 when her convoy was ambushed by a suicide car bombing in Fallujah. It was the single largest attack on American female troops in Iraq, killing three women and three men.

Though Pentagon policy bars women from serving in direct combat roles, the nature of the war in Iraq, with no real front lines, has seen woman soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than in any previous conflict.

Charette's death and the deaths of more than three dozen other servicewomen in Iraq have made it clear that women are very much a part of the war on the ground -- even if they did not expect to be.

''It's not like World War II where you go to the front, you dig in, and you shoot at the enemy across a barbed-wire fence," said Lieutenant Colonel Ellen Krenke, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense.

Charette, who served as a mail carrier in Iraq and had said she planned to apply for a job with the US Postal Service when she left the military, was part of a team of Marines assigned to checkpoints in Fallujah.

She made an unlikely Marine, according to those who knew her.

Douglas McGunagle, a former instructor of Charette's who taught chemistry in high school, said she was not the type to carry a gun.

''She was beautiful, and she was very feminine," McGunagle said.

Roberts said his stepdaughter never expressed fear of what lay ahead in Iraq. ''She just said that she knows what she wants to do and she was very strong-willed about it," he said.

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