- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

Nights are hardest for Danielle Green.

That’s when, alone in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, there are no new greeting cards to read, no well-wishers visiting. All she has is the silence, broken by tears, and the questions.

Green was a standout basketball player at Notre Dame from 1995 to 2000. But what earned her the nickname “D-Smooth,” the left hand that she used to wheel past defenses for 1,106 points, is gone.

The 27-year-old Green, a specialist in the U.S. Army serving with the 571st Military Police Company in Baghdad, was hit by shrapnel from a homemade rocket May25 while guarding the Sadoon Police Station. The explosion ripped into her leg and face, and tore off her left arm below her elbow.

It hurts the most because she doesn’t understand why it happened.

“I find myself late at night crying and depressed. I’m angry,” she said. “I lost something that was mine, and when I look down, I just get really upset. I’m just asking the question, ‘Why me?’”

She was honored at halftime of the Mystics’ game with the Indiana Fever last night, but even public appearances bring doubts. What will people think of a woman injured in combat?

How many people are staring?

“People are going to look at you just a little bit different,” said Green, who instinctively covers her cast with her right hand when she talks. “You don’t see women with upper extremity injuries. Even tonight, people are going to be looking. I’m just so conscious of what people perceive. That eats at me, and it’s going to take awhile.”

But for every tear, there are probably three people who have reached out to Green. Like her platoon leader and platoon sergeant, who scrambled back up to the roof after the explosion, against orders, to retrieve her wedding ring. Or Willie Byrd, her husband of nearly three months, who has now become Green’s cook, caretaker and hairdresser — and for a 58-year-old man, Byrd does an impressive job maintaining a set of cornrows.

It’s those little slices of kindness that keep Green moving forward.

“I’m just grateful that I’m even here today and that people are honoring me,” she said. “Every time I get depressed and bitter, I go back to thinking, ‘You know what? I could have died up there.’ I could have come back to America in a box, so I have to keep that in perspective.”

Her relationship with Byrd took an interesting twist, to say the least. He was coach at Chicago’s Washington High School, and knew Green from when her Roosevelt High School team played against his.

After Notre Dame, she returned to Chicago, and became Byrd’s assistant. Byrd retired in 2002, and the friendship evolved into something more.

“She was hanging out at my place watching football, and it started from there,” Byrd said. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t in love with her until she went away to the service [in 2002]. She’d call once a week, and I would wait for those calls. When she got to Iraq, she would call every other day.”

The two were married while Green was home on a three-week break. Byrd, who assumed he’d never find a wife, took Green to Las Vegas, and they were wed.

“I think it’s a blessing we got married,” he said. “I’ve been down here for a little over a month, and without being married, I wouldn’t have been able to be here this long. I think we’re going to be OK.”

Last night also gave Green a chance to catch up with a former teammate, Niele Ivy, a guard for Indiana who played with Green at Notre Dame for three years. She has phoned Green once or twice a week since the explosion in Baghdad. Green’s name is written on Ivy’s shoes, and she’s never very far from her mind.

“One of our coaches at Notre Dame called everybody that was close with her,” Ivy said. “It hurt me a lot. When they said her name, I thought she was dead or something like that. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Green didn’t find out until last night her name was on Ivy’s shoes. In the basketball universe, the gesture is a way to recognize a fallen teammate. The thoughtful look on her face, stopping just short of a smile, said how honored she felt.

“She didn’t tell me that on the phone,” Green said. “That just shows you the bond we have. Wow, I’m just honored she would do that for me.”

At least for a moment, the doubts disappeared.

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