RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - Smiling broadly, journalist Jill Carroll arrived Saturday under U.S. military protection in Germany, the first stop on her return to the United States from Iraq where she was kidnapped and spent 82 days in captivity.
Gone was the Islamic headscarf she had worn as a hostage and she had traded her full-length robe for jeans, a bulky gray sweater, and a desert camouflage jacket.
"I'm happy to be here," she told Col. Kurt Lohide, the U.S. officer who welcomed her to Ramstein Air Base.
Carroll, a 28-year-old freelancer for the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor, was seized Jan. 7 in western Baghdad by gunmen who killed her Iraqi translator.
She was dropped off Thursday at an office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab organization, and later escorted by the U.S. military to the Green Zone, the fortified compound in Baghdad protecting the U.S. embassy and other facilities. She was said to be reluctant to go to the Green Zone because her kidnappers had told her it was infiltrated by insurgents.
After a day in seclusion she left Balad Air Base near Baghdad Saturday on a military transport plane, landing at Ramstein shortly before 2 a.m. EST. Carroll was seated in the cockpit of the plane, a C17 Globemaster that was also carrying several soldiers wounded in Iraq.
As the plane came to stop, she cast a bemused look at the bevy of television cameras waiting on the tarmac. But she was all smiles when she emerged from the aircraft a few minutes later, wearing jeans and sneakers and carrying a flight bag. Her hair - uncovered - was pulled back in a ponytail.
As journalists watched from a distance, Lohide escorted her to a waiting van.
Carroll attracted a huge amount of sympathy during her ordeal. She spoke to Iraqi television upon her release but otherwise had not shown herself in public prior to her brief appearance Saturday.
Ramstein officials said she was taken to guest quarters on the base. She was expected to leave for Boston on a flight out of Frankfurt but it was unclear whether that would be Saturday. Ramstein referred all questions to the Christian Science Monitor, which declined comment.
After the van left, the wounded soldiers were brought out of the rear of the plane on stretchers for transport to the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
It wasn't clear why the kidnappers, who called themselves the Revenge Brigades, released Carroll. They had demanded the release of all female detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26, and said Carroll would be killed if that wasn't done.
U.S. officials did release some female detainees at the time, but said it had nothing to do with the kidnappers' demands. On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States is still holding four women.
Carroll has said her kidnappers confined her to a small, soundproof room with frosted windows but treated her well. Although her captors issued televised threats to kill her if American forces did not release women prisoners, she said she was never threatened or harmed.
On Friday a video posted on an Islamist Web site showed her speaking out against the U.S. military presence. She called on President Bush to bring American troops home.
"Tens of thousands ... have lost their lives here because of the occupation," she said in the video. "I think Americans need to think about that and realize day-to-day how difficult life is here."
She said the insurgents were "only trying to defend their country ... to stop an illegal and dangerous and deadly occupation."
It was not possible to reach Carroll to ask whether she actually held any of the views expressed. But her father, who spoke to her about the video, told the Monitor she said the abductors told her she would have to make a video praising her captors and attacking the United States to secure her freedom.
The Monitor's editor, Richard Bergenheim, said that Carroll's parents told him the video was "conducted under duress."
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad says there are more than 40 foreigners still being held hostage in Iraq.