Oregon mourns 1st female soldier to die in Iraq


The first woman soldier with Oregon ties to die in the Iraq war was remembered this weekend as a single mother who struggled to provide a better life for her two young sons, and a woman who found a sense of direction in the Army.

Spc. Michelle Ring, 26, was killed July 5 by mortar fire while on guard duty in Baghdad. She was born in Portland and grew up in McMinnville before her family moved to Alaska in the 1990s.

About 40 family and friends attended Saturday's service in the amphitheater of Willamette National Cemetery.

A tomboy who loved hunting and four-wheeling, Ring dropped out of high school. Her first love was a soldier at Fort Richardson in Alaska, who was killed in a fight while she was pregnant with her first son, a friend told the Anchorage Daily News. After her baby was born, Ring moved to Tennessee, where she married briefly, had her second son and worked in two factory jobs.

When she enlisted in the Army in August 2005, she was looking for a path to a better life for herself and her sons. Ring had re-enlisted just weeks ago and was hoping to become a military police officer.

Lt. Col. Leonard Cosby, a member of Ring's battalion who is headed back to Iraq next week, said she exemplified the qualities of a good soldier.

"The soldiers of the battalion I represent are better for having known your daughter," he said.

In 2006, she was assigned to the 92nd Military Police Battalion in Fort Benning, Ga., then shipped out to Iraq, where she worked as a petroleum specialist in the motor pool.

"She was not your typical girl," said Master Sgt. Ronald Barnes, reading the memories of one of Ring's battalion members in Iraq. "She was never afraid to get her hands dirty and get the task done, no matter what it was."

Ring is survived by her sons, Marc, 7, and Brandon, 5; her parents, John and Shirley Stearns of McMinnville; and her sisters, Karen Harbuck of Wasilla, Alaska, and Marilyn Haybeck of McMinnville.

At Saturday's memorial service, a representative for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski presented Ring's mother and her sons with state coins and state flags. They also received Ring's military decorations, including a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal.

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