A 19-year-old woman serving with the 116th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq died Sunday when a bomb explosion hit her vehicle, just a year after she graduated from Caldwell High School where she was a varsity cheerleader.
Spec. Carrie French was an ammunitions specialist with the 145th Support Battalion.
French is the seventh soldier from the Idaho National Guard's 116th to die in Iraq, and the first woman soldier.
The Pentagon said French died when a roadside bomb hit the front of the vehicle she was driving in a convoy in Kirkuk.
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She is survived by her mother, Paula Hylinsky, and father, Rick French, who asked that reporters respect their wish for privacy. But the family did issue a statement that said, "Carrie was a fun-loving young woman with a warm heart and a desire to serve. She was loved by everyone who knew her and she will be dearly missed."
As friends heard the news from media reports, they reflected on French's outgoing and down-to-earth character.
"Carrie was probably one of the most fun-loving and real people I have ever met, " said Sgt. First Class Damon Moysard, who recruited French for the National Guard. "She was always herself. She never put on airs to impress other people. She was so outgoing; full of life. And I'm so happy I got to know her."
Moysard recruited for the Guard for four years, and French was one of his last recruits, and the first recruit he's lost in combat. He said he watches constantly for reports on military casualties. "You sit there and you wait and you wonder: Is it somebody that you knew? Was it a friend, a close friend? Was it one of your kids?
"In the last 24 hours, I've probably felt absolutely every emotion that I possibly could. I've been in denial. I've been angry. ... Obviously, I've been choked up."
Cheryl Adams coached French's varsity cheerleading team in 2003-04.
"It's like losing one of my kids, " Adams said.
The squad was in "each other's pocket all year long, " she said. "There's not much that happens that we don't know about. And it's a big hole."
"Frenchie" tried new things and encouraged other people to do the same, Adams said.
Cheerleading was a new challenge to French when she moved to Caldwell for her senior year. She trained for both the cheerleading team and the Guard before and during her senior year.
"The first time she cheered a game, she was so nervous she was almost sick, " Adams said. "Cheerleading brought her out of her shell. ... She was a hard worker, but she looked for the fun in things. She was really positive. ... She'd be afraid to do something, but she'd do it anyway.
"She was a beautiful young woman, " Adams said, "and this just isn't real."