Army lieutenant says focus on the positive
October 7, 2004
A 26-year-old Army lieutenant who led her soldiers on sweeps of Iraqi homes and roadways for weapon stashes and hidden explosives, describes herself simply.
“I was a very average person,” said Laura Shiplet. “I still am.”
Shiplet, a first lieutenant, leads a support engineer platoon.
She visited her mother, Connie, who retired from the Navy after 21 years, in Carson City this week.
“You think (war) is like the movies, but it’s not,” Shiplet said. “I don’t think I can describe it. It’s nothing like what you see in movies, like about the Normandy invasion. It’s so precise. But even being precise, there are things that go wrong.”
Shiplet’s platoon of 24 men stayed at the Camp Junction City in Ramadi, which was vacant buildings in an abandoned port city before a brigade of soldiers built it into a functioning camp.
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Generators brought in electricity, and contracts for air-conditioning brought cold relief. Laundry was done by hand and soldiers slept in cots. Shiplet’s bed was cordoned off by a curtain. Sleep was easily interrupted with blaring Iraqi music or distant mortar shells. Or guard duty.
“If you got a full night of sleep you were lucky,” she said. “But the places we slept were, by far, better than those who fought the war. They didn’t have much. I’m not envious of them, but I admire them.”
Shiplet stayed in Iraq for 380 days. The climate reminded her of Nevada.
“It was hot and dry,” she said. “And it stank a lot. There was always garbage along the roadside.”
Her men cleaned those roads, often with armed vehicle accompaniment. Her platoon was one of four that comprised Alpha Company. Alpha was one of four companies in the First Engineer Battalion, the oldest and most decorated, with the nickname the “Big Red One.”
“There was one real bad occasion, a couple of my soldiers were wounded,” she said. “They’re alive, but that’s the good thing.”
She was fortunate enough to have taken a DVD player with her. Movie swapping became a pasttime between missions. A television in the mess hall showed news. Soldiers were discouraged by protesters back home.
“The good moments were when good things happened to my soldiers, when they told me good news that made me happy,” she said.
Shiplet returned to Fort Riley, Kan., in late September. After a vacation just over two weeks, she must return Nov. 2. She may be shipped out again in about a year.
“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “Nobody wants to get deployed, but I’m up to the challenge. But I don’t worry. If it comes, it comes.”
“I worry for her,” said her mother.
Shiplet grew up on military bases, and is extremely close with her mother. Shiplet lived in Dayton, Reno and Fallon. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, in May 2002, with a geography degree, she entered the Army as a commissioned officer.
“We wish people would focus more on the positives rather than the negatives like the (Abu Ghraib) jail scandal,” she said.
Rebuilt schools, a nearby university made safe for the return of students and training of Iraqis were all positive results from American troops.
“I think (rebuilding) is going to take time – just time and patience,” she said.
Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.