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From party animal to fighting tiger

NAME: Lance Cpl. Michelle Glass

AGE: 20

HOMETOWN: East Peoria, Ill.

BRANCH: Marines

JOB: Combat engineer

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SOUTHERN IRAQ—Michelle Glass was a party animal. She drank too much and went to school when she felt like it.

"I was the kid your parents didn't want you to hang out with," says Glass, 20, of East Peoria, Ill.

When she joined the Marine Reserves in February 2002, it changed her life. "It was the best thing I could have done for myself," she says. She's a combat engineer in Charlie Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, working security at a supply base in southern Iraq.

Glass is 5 feet tall and weighs 111 pounds, but she's proud to say she can do everything, physically, that she's been asked to do.

"I had to prove that I'm not just a whiny girl who did it for the college money," she said. "I had to prove that I'm mentally tough. I bet a lot of guys would cry before I would."

After boot camp, Glass graduated first in her class from a school for combat engineers. She was a private first class for only one day, then she was promoted to lance corporal.

"I can do everything a man can do," she said. "If I can't, they need to kick me in the butt. I'm not a man, not a woman. I'm a Marine."

Glass is one of two females in Charlie Company, which includes 130 Marines. She has her own tent, but that's about the only special treatment she gets. "At home, I'm a girl," Glass said. "Out here, there's no place for femininity."

Glass grew up with blond hair down to her waist. When she was activated, she cut it to her chin. On her first day in Kuwait, she shaved her head, just like all the guys in her platoon. "I didn't look at myself for a day in the mirror," she says. "When I did look, I fit in. I looked like everybody else."

She smiles: "But I wasn't cute at all."

Technically, she broke a rule. A woman is not supposed to shave her head in the Marines because it's considered extreme.

"A female captain was upset," Glass says. "She was outraged by it. She told me I had to be more feminine. I said, `There's no place in the war to be feminine.' "

The issue went to the battalion command, but Glass was simply told not to do it again.

Traveling through Kuwait and Iraq, Glass has developed a deep appreciation for the freedoms and opportunities in the United States.

"I've never seen the world, the way people live," she says. "It's sad, so many people in America take things for granted, running water, going to the store for groceries, even having a clean place to live. Here, these people have nothing.

"Back home, people don't know a lot about the military, don't know about the world. They don't have a clue. They don't know how other people live. It makes me mad that people back home don't care."

She's going to school to become a firefighter and hopes to become a fire investigator. "I like to figure things out," she said.

Glass, who's single, could be called to duty for the next seven years, but she doesn't plan to re-enlist.

"One day, I want to be a good wife, a good mom," she says. "I don't want to be a mom who goes to war."

Her family writes her letters, saying she might be able to find the man of her dreams among so many eligible men, but she scoffs at the notion. She used to look at Marines and think, "Dang, I could marry me one of them."

Not after living with them.

"I would never date a Marine," she says. "I'm one of them now."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATIONS (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): iraqfaces+glass

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