Staff Sgt. Stacy Pearsall rode in a convoy of military vehicles north of Baghdad last April when the lead vehicle struck an improvised explosive device and the convoy was ambushed.

Soldiers raced to help the wounded when the convoy was struck again by a rocket- propelled grenade.

They hurried wounded soldiers back to the ramp on Pearsall's vehicle where she was manning a machine gun.

With adrenaline pumping and others yelling for her help, Pearsall lurched forward to assist the wounded soldiers. The communication cord from her helmet was still attached and her sudden forward movement brought her off her feet.

She managed to help the wounded soldiers and didn't realize until later how severely she hurt her neck.

It was the second time she was wounded. The first happened in 2003 from another incident involving an improvised explosive device that first injured her neck.

The years of those incidents also coincided with huge honors for Pearsall, 28, a member of the 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Charleston Air Force Base.

In 2003, she was named Military Photographer of the Year. She was just awarded the honor again for 2007.

"I concentrated on it and took the best pictures that I could," Pearsall said. "I really wanted it. I really felt a sense of closure in my career."

After 10 years in the military, the Canton, S.D., native is trying to figure out her career.

"This has been my whole world for 10 years," she said. "I love my country, and I love what I do. I have to start thinking about my body and my well-being."

Her husband understands her passion. He is Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway, who is stationed Iraq and also is a combat photographer who has won awards for his work.

"It's a friendly competition," Pearsall said.