Campion knew what she wanted to do after graduating Hatboro-Horsham High School - become a Marine. Soon it was goodbye, Horsham; hello, Helmand province.

"I joined the Marines because I wasn't necessarily going down the right path. College wasn't for me - I wanted to experience things that the average person wouldn't," Campion writes in an e-mail from Afghanistan.

"Being a female in the military isn't so different from being a male," Campion says. "We sometimes get looked down on because those before us messed up - almost like we have something to prove. . . .

"I do what I need to do to get the job done. I don't need to look or act a certain way to fit in with the males."

Afghanistan has affected her more emotionally than physically, she says, especially as part of a Female Engagement Team, formed because Afghan culture makes it taboo for men to touch or have other contact with women who are not their relatives. The teams talk to Afghan children and women, and search them in some situations.

"Being out with the Female Engagement Team and the infantry, you get to see a lot more than most people get to see out here," she writes.

She is proud to be a female Marine who helps Afghan women who otherwise "have no say in anything. A lot of the women give us a 'thank God you're here' look."

Her family accepts their daughter's passion and appreciates the discipline the military is instilling in her - she had fights in high school.

Still, they worry.

"She's 19," says her mother, Kim Campion-Roig of Hatboro. "I think to myself all the time, 'She's carrying a gun.' . . . My God, there's a war going on over there."

Campion-Roig, 41, e-mails her daughter nearly every day and sends weekly care packages of hair conditioner, shampoo, and skin lotion. (The United Service Organizations, known as the USO, also provides personal-care packages tailored to women.)

Ryann Campion's 6-year-old brother, Christian Roig, thinks his sister's job "is the coolest thing. He's going to be a Marine when he grows up. I hope he grows out of it," says Campion-Roig.

Grandfather Bill Campion, 67, also of Hatboro, says the stress he felt from his granddaughter's deployment exacerbated back pain and sent him to the hospital.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think or talk about Ryann," says the retired computer database administrator. "It left a big hole in my life because I spent so much time with her."

Ryann Campion knows her family is concerned.

"It kills them to know I'm out here in a dangerous environment, but I tell them whenever I go out on missions that it'll be OK," she says.

"I think the best thing for my family is that they have something to be proud of. They have a child who pulled herself out of a hole and is now making a difference."

   - Carolyn Davis