Laura served in the Army National Guard from March 2001-2009 as a military police officer. She was activated to active duty and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq from March 2003-July 2004. In 2019, Laura published her memoir, Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up, which is an alarming memoir of combat and coming back home. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from UW-Madison. Moved to England to teach Physical education in Aylesbury. Then moved to Fargo, ND to work with individuals who have Special Needs as an Activities Director. She worked as a Physical Education Teacher and Dean of Students at Madison West High School from 2008-2017. She received a master's in Educational Leadership through Cardinal Stritch in 2011 and a master's in Experimental Education from UW-LaCrosse in 2012. She has been an administrator at Waupaca Middle School since the fall of 2017.
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What was it like to deploy to Iraq as the war kicked off? Laura was the first wave of the invasion after the Marines. She talked about the whole experience in her book Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up that is based on the journal she kept while deployed overseas.
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In this interview we covered Laura joining the National Guard in March of 2001. She was going to college so she was part of a program where she went to boot camp in the summer. She had completed boot camp and was drilling on weekends in the National Guard when September 11th happened. She continued to go to school and then was sent to her military police officer training the summer of 2002. By the end of Jan 2003, her unit was informed she would be activated to active duty and deploy to Iraq. We talked about the challenge of having to quit school for a year and a half and deploying to Iraq. They were the first wave after the Marines. And initially, the Iraqis were happy for the American liberation force, but after six months the Iraqis feelings toward the Americans changed and it became a lot more dangerous with mortar attacks, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and ambushes. One of the hardest weeks of her deployment was the week a fellow soldier died and they also were told they were being extended, after being less than two weeks away from coming home.
She came home and felt lucky to have been unscathed. But a year later at Sgt School during a simulated war game she started to have panic attacks and although she was able to finish and graduate Sgt School she continued to struggle with PTSD. We talked about how PTSD makes us feel and how she still has moments when she struggles today. She wants to talk about her story through her book and giving presentations at the school to help people know about what people have done for our country.
When she was asked what advice, she would give young women about joining the military she said, it has to be a decision you make for yourself. The military isn’t for everyone. And although there are some good parts of the military, you need to be 100% committed if you sign up to serve.
Connect with Laura (contains affiliate links):
Her book: Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up
Mentioned in this episode:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Episode 7: The Struggle of Coming Home From War
Episode 11: Overcoming PTSD and What’s Next
Episode 45: Overcoming Adversity in the Army
Read the full transcript here.
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Amanda Huffman 00:00
Welcome to Episode 87 of the women of the military podcast. This week my guest is Laura Colbert. In today's interview, we talk about what it was like to deploy to the Iraq War in the early stages of war. Laura was in the first wave of the invasion after the Marines. She talked about the whole experience in her book Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up that is based on a journal she kept while deploying overseas. In this interview, we covered Laura joining the National Guard in March of 2001. And having to stop going to college when she deployed to Iraq and coming home and suffering from PTSD. This is a really deep interview on what is like to deploy to Iraq, and I'm really thankful for Laura for taking time to share her story. So let's get started. You're listening to the Women of the Military podcast where we share the stories of female service members and how the military touched their lives. I'm Amanda Huffman. I'm an Air Force veteran, author of Women of the Military and a collaborative author of Brave Women, Strong Faith. I am also a military spouse and Mom. I created Women of the Military podcast as a place to share stories of military women past and present with the goal of finding the heart of the story while uncovering the triumphs and challenges women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women, and be inspired to change the world, keep tuned for this latest episode of Women of the Military. I'm excited for you to be here. Thanks for coming on the show. So let's dive in with Why did you decide to join the military?
Laura Colbert 01:53
Well, I was my freshman year of college and I had saved up enough money for scholars and my first year of college, but then thought that my parents are gonna help me pay for the subsequent years. And I have a twin brother. So that was kind of the deal for both of us. And halfway through our freshman year, they realized that they couldn't afford to do that. So I started looking for an alternative way to pay for college and I really did not want to have a lot of college debt. And I love adventure. I was in crew my freshman year, I rode for the UW Madison team. And I thought, you know, I love adventure, I could totally stay in shape with with the National Guard. And so that's the route I took. It was March of '01, which was six months before September 11. So it was a peacekeeping time and one of my good friends do it what's gonna happen in the next six years? Yeah, so I was excited for the opportunity to possibly do some peacekeeping missions and just serve our country.
Amanda Huffman 02:46
Yeah, I think that's important to talk about because you joined in March of 2001, before the country was at war, and like not it wasn't very long did you do go to basic
Laura Colbert 02:56
In March of 2001, I was in college. So I did. When I did the split option and I went to basic training, the summer of oh one and then September 11 happened and then I got one to fit for military police training. That's the following summer and then got deployed. Well, no, I got to play my junior year in March of my junior year.
Amanda Huffman 03:17
So you had the option because you are going to school, too. Did you start drilling in March and then went to basic?
Laura Colbert 03:24
Yeah, I didn't really actually drill a whole lot before basic I was supposed to go to this random weekend long Welcome to the military boot camp type of thing in Wisconsin and I went to the wrong truck stop. So I missed my ride and got a free weekend out of it. So I got to stay back at college and have fun. So yeah, showed up to basic training not knowing a whole lot about the military, which was a little scary, but we made it through
Amanda Huffman 03:50
So you drilled the hole next year, and then you went to your AIT, which is like the job training for your job and then you started going back to School and that's when you guys found out you're deploying to Iraq.
Laura Colbert 04:02
Yep. So we as soon as I got back from AIT, we really started to train as though we were going to be deployed. And come February actually, I think it was end of January. I got the call that said we're most likely getting deployed in the two weeks later on February 14, Valentine's Day, I got the Yep, you're you're getting deployed. So clean up all your stuff. And let's go
Amanda Huffman 04:23
So how does it work for someone who's in the National Guard? Are you at the will of the Army and when they say it's time to go, you're like, Alright...
Laura Colbert 04:31
Yeah, I had to drop out of all my classes. There's only one professor that said that he'd give me an incomplete and I could finish when I get back which is essentially the same thing as dropping out. Because the National Guard honors where you're at in your life, anybody who has a job can get that same job or at least the same pay type of job and then you can resume your your schooling if that's what if that's where you're at, which was my case. So I actually had to pay rent out throughout the rest of the year, but you get a stipend for that. When you get deployed, and yeah, I moved out and kept paying rent for my roommates that I was living with. And then for the rent, like I said, for the duration of the lease, and then yeah, moved everything to my parents house and went to war.
Amanda Huffman 05:13
That's crazy. I think people don't understand like maybe that how many people deploy with the National Guard, I deployed with National Guard troops and like you have a normal job. It's not like having back to duty just to be in the military. So you just do whatever they say. But National Guard and Reserves kind of have a very different relationship between like one week, one month, two weeks a year, and then all of a sudden, no, no, this is what you're right.
Laura Colbert 05:37
Yeah. Right. Yeah. It's very different. And we joked a lot that, you know, we're the National Guard. So shouldn't we stay national and sort of international, but we ended up going to Baghdad, Iraq. So we were very international.
Amanda Huffman 05:49
Let's talk a little bit about your experience. And I want to mention that you wrote a book about your experience. So if people want to read more, because it's over 200 pages so we're only gonna, we're gonna do like the 30,000 foot level. I'll have the link in the show notes so that people can order it. I'll let you introduce it.
Laura Colbert 06:09
Sure. So it's called Sirens,: How to Pee Standing Up an alarming memoir of combat and coming back home. It was an interesting endeavor. Writing this book, what I did was I journaled the entire time I was deployed. So every day or if I missed a day, I try and go back and recap what happened. I wrote exactly what happened. And it is very much in military jargon. And there's a lot of swear words in my journal. And it's the rawness of what war was like. So I brought that home and I put that into digital format and made it very civilian friendly, and they're still it's still not totally civilian friendly. Obviously, there's lots of acronyms in it and then took out some of the redundancies in the boring stories and really explained them more in depth ones are the more intriguing stories. We we were deployed for 16 months, so it was a lot of We first got there, it was almost as though we were liberating the Iraqis and they loved having us there. And within six months, it went to an occupation where they started throwing rocks at us and giving the thumbs down and say, saying that America to us and and that's when the ID started happening and getting rocketed and mortared every night in our compounds and in the war just really became an extremely scary place to be compared to when we started there. So it has two titles, kind of because my editor didn't really like how to pee standing up. She didn't like the word P and that was my running title since I started this project. And so we compromised by using both of them which is really confusing to readers. But it I think that in the end, if you read it closely enough, you can see the sirens aspects in there. It's it's multifaceted, it means you know the sirens coming out of the ocean. And because when you're deployed, you're like Queen for a year, not only among the military men, but you should have seen the way the Iraqis treated us because they're so used to they're very fully covered women who don't leave their homes who are very submissive in nature. Well, I don't know what they're like in the house, but they're submissive in public and and here we were these like Hollywood type women, you know, fighting a war. So they were super intrigued there. And then also we were Military Police. So there's some connotations with the sirens there. And then I did suffer a lot of post traumatic stress when I got home. So I made the the simile of like sirens going off in my head, but how to pee standing up is a really funny title. And I did indeed learn how to pee standing up because we were an urban fighting environment, and I had to learn how to pee using a funnel.
Amanda Huffman 08:37
Yep, I heard about that. Hey, guys, I want to tell you about a workbook that I just finished reading and it's really helped me with my business. If you're someone who's starting a business or a thought about starting a business, you need to check out the ministry to business guide on sell this summer for $27. If you thought I want to monetize my writing but I don't know how to do it. Or if you have started speaking and you keep getting paid with Starbucks gift cards or warm hugs, this guide will help you start making an income, building your audience and learning the tips and tricks of how to grow your audience. If this sounds like something that you need to help your business, check out my affiliate link in the show notes and get your guide today. Now, let's get back to the show. I think it was really an interesting time because like you said, when you first got there, the Iraqis were happy and they were like welcoming and then when you guys didn't leave, they will quickly change their tune on like how and one of the things that is really different between like I was in Afghanistan, so like Afghan culture and Iraqi culture, they're similar but different. But one of the things that you talked a lot about in the book was like how there was like, no sense of urgency to like, stop or like, they're like, no, he can do it. I'll just sit here and like we ran into a lot and actually In a story like, well, you need to like, do this now and what tomorrow. And so that was one of the things that like, I think the cultures of like American culture and the Middle East culture, it's really hard because they like our personalities clash so much. And we don't even know like that we're doing something to offend them and or that they're doing something to offend us, because we're just like, so different.
Laura Colbert 10:25
Yeah, you nailed it on the head and I didn't know if it was because a lot of the soldiers or sorry, the police officers that were helping to train the Iraqi police officers, they were just civilians off the street who wanted a consistent paycheck. And so I didn't realize I didn't know if it was part of that facet, where they just didn't know what to do. And they were too scared or if it was part of their culture. And another funny story, I had my legs crossed, and I was, you know, shaking my leg a little bit as it was crossed. And one of the interpreter said, nailer, you got to stop that you're showing the bottom of your foot because that's like showing the middle finger or swearing at somebody you don't you don't show the bottom of your feet. So yeah, those calls differences were really, really unique and then not to get too heavy or too political, but to assume that our democratic principles are going to fit with the Iraqi ideals and give them a democratic government. I you know, I am hoping that a lot of research wouldn't have that. But I also feel like it was it could have gone a lot better had we done something that was a little bit more suited to their cultural needs.
Amanda Huffman 11:20
Yeah, that's we were I'm on engineers, my background and so we were building like these huge like buildings, and everywhere else was mud huts. And so they like, had this blueprint that they like had to use because that's what the government and you're like, maybe you should have, like, drove out here and saw what they had instead of being like, built this. Yeah. So sometimes where it's like, where it works in one place, even like it probably would have worked in the capital city where the like stuff was coming from, but it doesn't work and other parts and like the same thing, like, well, this works in America. So let's do it over here. Right. That's one of the hardest parts to think about when you're overseas and like you're trying to implement what you're missing. Is and like you're getting directions from up top and you're like down on the ground and something's missing, or you're not ready, you're not down here. So you don't understand what kind of struggles we're going through. And I think that makes it really difficult for people on the ground.
Laura Colbert 12:17
Yeah, and I talked about that a little bit in the book too, as a military person, you have to follow orders. And that's, and that's what you do. And if you don't do that, it's not like you'll get reprimanded or, you know, a slap on the wrist, you could get fined, you could get demoted. And ultimately, you could end up at Fort Leavenworth and in a prison, it's not like you can just quit and walk away. There were a couple times when we were put in a pretty tumultuous situation where I knew the end result could be really bad and had they had the leadership thought it through a little bit more, we wouldn't have put ourselves in so much danger like going down a wrong dead end road, you know, do we have to come back that way they can easily set up an ambush or driving around a circle three times because we don't quite know which way to go and and then I also mentioned how I will Was escorting around to some new captains through our MP brigade and they literally went to the three most dangerous parts of Baghdad because they wanted to see some action and I was there escort so that was really frustrating too because I already been there for nine months I already saw my fair share for I did not mean to be put my life on the line because they wanted to play cowboys you know?
Amanda Huffman 13:19
Yeah, one of the things when I was reading it I was like when we I wouldn't do to Afghanistan in 2010 and so very different war like we've been there for so long we had all the routes on where we're going and he didn't have a GPS you're like just driving around trying to figure out where to go and so it was kind of crazy because the previous team like when we got there, they said this is how you get to here this time and so we knew exactly where we're gonna go essentially and everything and it was so such a small area that we went to that their directions of showing us and there were like five roads because it was like there's not really a lot to go by. It's just interesting how when you're the first ones there and you're setting everything up, there's no person to tell you that how to get to different places. And you guys went on a lot of different like new missions where you were doing go run over here and do this. And so it was a lot of trying to figure it all out. Yeah.
Laura Colbert 14:17
I call ourselves the first permanent establishment after the Marines came through Iraq. We lived in a bombed out building that we bombed. When we bombed Baghdad, there were still remnants of the bombs in the building. And we only had two walls because the other two were blown out from the explosion and chunks of marble ceiling were falling down on our beds, you know, we'd hammer it with a broomstick to make sure it was down as far as it could or we got as much down as we could so it wouldn't fall on us when we're sleeping. So it was Yeah, there was it was pretty unsubstantiated and a lot of Iraqis I think that's one of the reasons maybe they treated us so only first got there because they were We were an anomaly. We were just this thing that they had this force, they had not really encountered a whole lot.
Amanda Huffman 14:54
Yeah, and one of the things that you guys you guys were lurking like night shifts, sometimes and data Sometimes and you were one of very few females. Were you the only female on your squat or
Laura Colbert 15:06
No, actually, my platoon was almost half females half male, but we were we were the exception to the rule. There were two platoons only had four females and one that had seven. But when we were doing the gate guard outside of our compound, all the infantry and the special forces who didn't have any women with them would drive past so we were definitely high majority high minority there. Not many females except for like I said, our platoon which was actually really cool because a lot of the females and I still get together and and we, you know, had that really strong bond that you talk about that happens at war,
Amanda Huffman 15:38
and cool. You could have so many other women with you because I think we had like seven or eight on our team, but we had, like 100 people I got to play with another civil engineer and she was a female and it was nice to have someone to work directly with who was a female and to have that or and we're still friends.
Laura Colbert 15:55
Yeah, absolutely. We definitely had each other's backs and First this infantry guy who, again, they came in after we'd been there for nine months. And he said to one of our female gunners even know how to use that thing, you know, and they had just gotten to ward. Turn that sucker on him. Yeah, they they tried to mess with us but didn't work.
Amanda Huffman 16:15
A lot of people don't realize like how many women have been fighting the war and like on the front lines from the beginning, you guys were there before the infantry and like so many people think the infantry are the ones who were there first. And I think that it's really important to talk about you talked about you had PTSD, were there specific incidents that you can like relate back to or was it the whole deployment?
Laura Colbert 16:42
Yeah, that's a good question. I'm just going to go back to your frontlines commit. And then I'll talk posttraumatic stress. You know, I feel like that term is so archaic and what's going on in today's day and age with horror, because even if we didn't go out into the city of Baghdad, we were still in a very dangerous compound. We're mortar And rockets were flying in every night and we thought that we didn't know if you're going to survive and then after we got extended we moved into tents and that's really when I thought I was going to die in my sleep and you know I would come out of the tent and and seven tents down would be completely annihilated by mortars and thank God it was empty, you know or we were walking to chow hall one time and chunks of mortar where we're getting to our feet after they impacted the ground. I was in the gym right before I went to the gym, I was in a porta potti came out and that porta potti was incinerated by mortars that just hit our compound. And again, the frontlines term is so incorrect with the today's day and age with war because it's not just lining up and moving forward. So yeah, we were out there before the women were officially allowed on the frontlines. And that's kind of why I chose to be a military police officer instead of a mechanic which I wanted to have that opportunity to go fight if it ever came to that. So going to post traumatic stress now, it's, you know, it's loud noises. It's when my husband uses the nail gun. It's when somebody slams a door. It's when I'm at a track meet and the gun goes off. It's thunder. One time the full moon I looked at the full moon and it reminded me of doing the night shift at the Baghdad police station and watching the whole lunar cycle happen. And then I saw the moon as a civilian and just broke down. I do think that the scariest part of our deployment was probably the unknown with the mortars that has left me with the most amount of nightmares. And not even that they're that bad, but that whenever I dream of war, it is me trying to avoid mortar mortars impacting and, you know, through time the post traumatic stress has gotten better, but I I just had to leave the Fourth of July parade this year because the VFW kept shooting off rounds as they walked through the parade and it you know, drove me to a really bad place and just random stuff like that. That happens in life when you don't really expect it to happen. And it does. And so when I know when I'm the one with the nail gun, or I'm the one with something that's gonna make a loud noise, that's better than somebody else has it.
Amanda Huffman 19:01
I think that's a good point to talk about PTSD because I can function most of the time with like, no, then sometimes I'm like, Oh, I'm caring. And then I you have something like I got stuck in traffic. I was taking doxycycline, which is the same drug that I took malaria when I was deployed. And I think it was the combination of being stuck, like stuck in traffic and being on doxycycline. And it made me panic. I like had to start moving because it's not safe. And like I was, yeah, so it's like, and this just happened less than six months ago. And I was it kind of like, surprised me because it was like, I've been stuck in traffic before. In that moment. I like couldn't like I knew where I was, and I knew what was going on. But like my body was like ready to react and it just kind of freaked me out how quickly I went like straight back to that experience. And I think you said it's like sometimes things don't bother you and then other times, something that you would think is not as big of a deal as the other thing does, but you don't really have control,
Laura Colbert 20:04
right? Like I was driving down one of our two lane roads here in town and there was a piece of garbage on the side of the road and I veered into the other lane because we had to do that due to IE IEDs and Iraq. And when you're in a big Humvee, everybody gets out of your way. So I was in my little Toyota Corolla, thinking that the car coming my way, my way and it was right before we almost had impacted that I was realized I was civilian and got back in my lane. scary
Amanda Huffman 20:29
It is. It's really scary. And I think it's really important to talk about and for me, it was really hard to read your book because it was so personal and like so many stories, and it was it was real life. And I think that it's important to write about and for people to read, but it's not always easy for people to read it because it's it's so true. But I think people need to know these stories and to hear people's experiences so that they can understand what people are going through.
Laura Colbert 20:57
Yes, yeah, that's exactly right. I had a really good friend of Tell me that she her dad went to Vietnam and he can't talk about it, he never does. But he came back a different person. And, and after reading my book, she realizes how war can change you and impact you and why maybe he doesn't want to talk about it. And I bring up moral injury as well, which I feel like is is a new term. And I and I really do think that that has a lot to do with some of the things that have happened at war. Like, you know, you go over there and all of your all of your civilian morals and values are kind of shoved aside like you start to war swear, you start to spit you talk about killing people all the time you you can murder people, you know, and then you come home and you try to fit back into your own your old mold after having this entire mental shift. And I think that's really trying for a lot of people and whether or not you call it post traumatic stress or moral injury or culture shock, it's all kind of that same, that same idea.
Amanda Huffman 21:54
So true. It's it's really true because you your body and your mind, just have to like survive. And so you do things that you typically wouldn't do. And like poseen is a perfect example that, like, relieve stress and like everybody does it. And it's just you would never talk that way. But it's just, it's just a real, it's like one thing you can do that relieves stress. You're like, well, it's not that bad.
Laura Colbert 22:20
If you swear, or if you don't swear, we're there. You're like this weirdo.
Amanda Huffman 22:26
I want to talk about some of the other struggles that you had overseas. But I know that some of the people on your team died. And I wanted to talk about like, how that affected you because I think that's a really important topic and not easy to talk about.
Laura Colbert 22:43
Yeah, so she was she was in my company. Her name was Michelle Whitmer. And she was 20 years old. And it was actually right before we're supposed to go home before we got extended. So we were all thinking, you know, we'll be home in two weeks. We were just going to go How about the police stations because there were threats. The insurgents are going to take them over. So we decided to do 96 hour operations, which is four days in the police stations 24 seven, I wouldn't have been seven it would been 24 for anyway, so one night we came home at two in the morning after being at this really tumultuous station or again, the mortars are flying and you could see the tracer is just constantly flying through the sky. It was like the Fourth of July the the fireworks never stopped, but it was tracers and you know, with every, every round of a tracer, you've got two rounds that aren't seen because, well, at least the the United States we put tracers on every every three rounds. So anyways, it was it was really, really scary. And as we were driving home we started getting shot at from about 10 storey buildings from and we didn't know where the gunshots were coming from, but it was all over and you could see the gunners hunch in there and their turrets a little bit further and I was the driver and I was actually the lead driver in the convoy so I got it and got us into the green zone, which is where we lived at the time and we came out unscathed. We also had an ID go off behind her convoy too, but again, didn't didn't impact anything. And the following night, because we're in a war zone, we never take the same route home. But we came home around the same time, I think it was like quarter to two. And as we're driving in, we hear a lieutenant screaming into the radios that they're taking fire, and that somebody just got shot. And it was Michelle, and she was one of their gunners. And he gave us the, the play by play of essentially her dying in the Humvee, like where the blood was coming from, and her not breathing and pulseless. And so the next day, we found out that she officially didn't make it after they took him to the hospital. And we had to do our memorial service there in you know, the bagpipes, and then 21 gun salute and the whole nine yards there and then two days later, we got extended. So it was a lot of horrible things happening all at one time. And you know, I had to cancel two trips to New York and want to do things And I had to say I'd, uh, not ran, ran roll and UW Madison, so I didn't know if I'd be back in time for a fall semester. And, you know, just when you think it can couldn't get worse it did. So it was it was really, really, really hard. We had a lot of other injuries, we had, I think, a total of 27 Purple Hearts or something like that in our company. I was fortunate enough not to not have any injuries while I was there, you know, my injury comes in the form of post traumatic stress, but they I was one of the lucky ones.
Amanda Huffman 25:28
Yeah, and the timing of death and then being extended. When you were like that close. I just think about like being two weeks from coming home and then being told I would have to stay that would be so hard and I didn't I didn't realize why I didn't even think about like people being over there and like how close to being coming home. My friend's husband was there for 15 months, but he found out like in month two that it was gonna be 15 which is a lot different than like, I mean, it still sucks but when You're almost home, and you're just ready to be done. And then the extended.
Laura Colbert 26:04
Yeah, we had the sick joke that we're actually in hell and that was our hell is that they'd keep teasing us about going home and then taking away from us because they said, when we got deployed in March, it'd be six months tops. And then every month or so they extended a little bit longer and a little bit longer and a little bit longer. And when it finally felt tangible in April, and we were actually packing stuff up and sending it home, you know, I was like, hey, it's gonna happen. And then they extended us again. And then I you just couldn't believe anything anymore. At that point. You just, you never really believed it was going to happen. And then even when we finally we actually didn't take another full four months, when we started driving south in July, we were getting jerked around Even then, because we were supposed to leave at 1400 and then we'd stayed another night and then we were supposed to leave at zero 100 and then we didn't leave, you know, it was just like back and forth until finally we got in the Humvees and drove so but it was as crazytown you just had no no faith in what anybody says anymore.
Amanda Huffman 26:56
Yeah, that's just...make sense an added layer of life. What you're already going through and then just making it harder to Trump's leadership, making it harder to stay motivated, because you're whatever, we're just gonna be here forever and we never are gonna leave. And that's Yeah, I think that's one of the things people may not understand about the military is you don't have a say like, if they say you're gonna stay longer than you say two months longer. Like it's not like, wait, I didn't sign up for this. I'm supposed to be.
Laura Colbert 27:26
Yeah, I can't put your two week notice in.
Amanda Huffman 27:29
Let's talk a little bit about coming home from the deployment when you finally got to come home. What was that experience like?
Laura Colbert 27:36
Oh my gosh, you know, when that land and when that plane was pulling into Volk field and Wisconsin, which is on the western side of Wisconsin, I forgot how blue the sky could be and how green the grass was, and the even the smell of vegetation. And that was, that was one of the most surreal moments of my life and then we step by the plane and the fan, our family and friends. We're all waiting there with some And you could hear the roar of the crowd as we walked off the plane light up in alphabetical order on the plane before we got off. So it was just like one more like one more military thing that we had to do before we could finally see our friends and family just kind of fit the bill, I guess. But we got down and and yeah, it was it was just awesome. And then we got to Fort McCoy. And we were told from everybody, don't tell, don't tell the psychs what you saw or what you did, and don't act like it was a big deal because they're going to make you stay and after being gone for so long. We all lied our way through it. Do you see about dead body? Oh, yeah. But it was really far away. didn't really make a difference. Or, you know, how close were you to war? Well, not that close. So you know, we heard bombings once in a while. So yeah, so then we finally got home and and the loud noises and stuff bothered me but I didn't really feel like I had a whole lot of post traumatic stress. It wasn't until a year after I got home that I went to sergeant school and I was in a simulated war scenario with miles gear which is kind of like laser tag and we were doing a ruck march and I I just started losing it because there was simulated grenades going off, which reminded me of IEDs. And I started hyperventilating and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't walk anymore. And I kept telling myself, you're okay, you're fine, like not get off this. You're at home, you're in Wisconsin. And finally I just, I just dropped my knees and I couldn't go on. And thank God, Karla Garcia, one of my really good girlfriends from war was there. And so I called her over but in the meantime, other people were trying to help me and they thought I was suffering from heatstroke, so they want to take my clothes off. It's like, no, this is nothing compared to big I'd like knock it off. So I sat for a few hours and chilled out and got back into Sergeant school and ended up finishing one of the top of my class and then it was thereafter I was like, I couldn't get out of that funk. I couldn't stop having breakdowns and panic attacks and and I was probably a month or so after I got back from Sergeant school. I was in my car driving to a practicum because I was becoming a physical education teacher that I could not drive because I was crying. So hard and I had to call my older brother who was also in Iraq when I was there. And then I said, you got to take me to VA Dude, I can't go on. And so he drove a few miles to where I was parked, and he took me to the VA. I got the help that I needed.
Amanda Huffman 30:13
I think it's really important, though. You mentioned like, I knew where I was, because that's something that like, I know where I am, I know that I'm but I still can't control how my body is reacting. And I think sometimes when you hear things about, like PTSD, or whatever you think, like people say stuff like, Oh, well, you just go back to this place. And it's like you do but you still know where you are. And it's such a weird feeling. And when I came home, they asked me all the questions and I just, I think I didn't I did tell someone because I walked through a big open field and I thought it was a minefield, and I told the airman, and then she said, You need to tell the doctor that I'm serious. And I was like Well, I'm not gonna tel the doctor that. He didn't tell the doctor that and I was like, I don't feel like this is the Right system like I was brave enough to tell one person, that story, and it was a female. And then there came in, I didn't want to say it again. So and he didn't ask me, he just asked me like, very vague questions and the military system is it's really easy to navigate around. And even when you're brave enough to speak up, if you don't tell the right person, they're not gonna tell anyone, they're just gonna be like, you need to tell the next person like, right, right.
Laura Colbert 31:26
And there's people that I was deployed with who were in the same situation as I was, and they don't suffer from post traumatic stress. So you just never really know or it took them a while to for it to happen, you know?
Amanda Huffman 31:34
Yeah. Everybody's different. So you stayed in the army for a few years after you got home? Mm hmm. Why? Well, your enlistment was originally six years. Yeah, you stayed eight. Is that right?
Laura Colbert 31:50
Well, it's six plus two. So it's six years of active drilling. And then so that was an '07, when I officially got out and then two years of inactive ready reserves, so it's kind of like if they're if if something really bad happened and they need a lot of troops, they could still call me up out of the blue. But I didn't have my uniforms. I didn't have anything military related anymore or I sold my uniforms I guess because those were mine. But you know, I didn't have like my tactical gear or anything anymore. And then in Oh, nine, I got my my honorable discharge. So yeah, so you didn't have a drilling wasn't easy after I started suffering posttraumatic stress or being around guns or you know, like it was just it was really, really hard. Yeah.
Amanda Huffman 32:28
So how many years? Was it that you're doing drilling like 3 years?
Laura Colbert 32:36
Yeah. So we got back in '04. And then I didn't have posttraumatic stress until the fall of Oh, five. So it was like another year and a half. Yeah, yeah. And then actually, our company got deployed in oh seven in I think the fall of oh seven or like shortly after I got out. So I was really lucky that I didn't get stop lossed, which is when you get extended tour of service.
Amanda Huffman 32:58
So your unit Played right. Back to Iraq right after you got out.
Laura Colbert 33:04
Yeah, they went back and it was substantially different deployment the second time around not nearly as scary and and they lived in much better housing than than we did so and and their jobs were actually outlined and not just go train there. I can police officers and see what you can do to make it happen.
Amanda Huffman 33:23
Yeah, I'm sure a lot change this kind of crazy. Mm hmm. So you decided so you did your six year enlistment? And then the two? Yep. And actors are and then you kind of finished school and what did you do?
Laura Colbert 33:38
Yeah, so I graduated in '06. You know, after being deployed for being gone for a year and a half from school. It really I graduated within four and a half years of actually attending the University as a physical education teacher. And then I decided to have what I called the year of Laura and I traveled all over the world. I went to Europe and then I went to Central America. And road trips throughout the United States. And then while I was in England traveling, I actually applied for a teaching job over there and don't even remember what I put on the application but they called me a few weeks after that when I was back in the states and offered me a position. So a month later I moved back to air I moved to England and taught in England and ended up reconnecting with an old boyfriend who was going to school in Fargo. He was playing for the football team at NDSU. And so I moved from England to Fargo to be with him and was there for a year and a half and actually worked with people with special needs. I was an activities director as opposed to doing my teaching gig. Well, I didn't love Fargo, and I didn't have a lot of support or friends there and the boyfriend that I had, at the time he really liked to hunt. So he was gone a lot and I just didn't have an opportunity to build up my social connection. So I moved back to Madison and he came with me and I got a teaching gig in Madison and then proceeded to you to get two master's degrees one and experiential education and One in educational leadership. And so then that brought me into the role of Dean of Students at a high school in Madison. And then I was also the next year in charge of a whole bunch of new initiatives. And then the year after that, I moved back to my hometown, two hours north and became an assistant principal at the middle school, which is very different than the high school, and then a year and a half into that I got the head principal role. So that's where I'm at right now.
Amanda Huffman 35:27
And then that boyfriend? No,
Laura Colbert 35:33
No, we were together for about four years. And then a year after him and I had broken up, I met my husband. So my husband and I got married in 2012. And now we've got three kids and yeah, it's amazing.
Amanda Huffman 35:45
Came back to England and then Yeah. Did we miss anything? Or was there something from your military experience that you wanted to talk about?
Laura Colbert 35:58
Hmm. You know, Just everybody's unique and not only what their deployment looks like, even if you're in the same squad, I mean, my I had just vastly different experiences because at one point my team leader left and went to become a squad leader and, and even the gunner would stay home once in a while or he would go on a different vehicle and I would, you know, go and escort a different vehicle so, you know, it's it's very different for every single person that goes over there and no two stories are like and and I just really hope that as soldiers return, we can accept them for where they're at in life, regardless if they have post traumatic stress or not, or moral injury, or again, whatever you want to call it. And just be aware of how our actions can impact veterans, for example, fireworks during the Fourth of July or, you know, just shooting guns at our house because it's fun, even though a veteran lives next door, because those can be pretty scary things when we get back. Yeah, and just really taking them for their word and where they're at because nobody He would lie about that kind of experience or the ramifications of of what happened or
Amanda Huffman 37:05
Yeah, being open to listen, being willing to make changes or change the way you do things to think about what other people are feeling. Mm hmm. So my last question is, what advice would you give to young women who are considering joining the military?
Laura Colbert 37:23
You know, it's interesting that you asked this question because as a high school teacher, I would give my presentation my and I would share my experience about iraq all the time to my students, and it's not to highlight you know, the good or the bad or the ugly or to persuade people it's it's it's literally a sequential order of what happened. And just to give people some insight, because since we're not in the draft war, I feel like a gap between civilian and military is so huge. At any rate, I get asked a lot, well, would you recommend war and I always say, That's up to you as an individual. I can tell you right now that it wasn't for me. I didn't like being told what to do by people who Sometimes were a little bit less intelligent or, you know, I didn't like being told what to do when I knew it wasn't the best situation. I didn't mind wearing the uniform. You know, it was nice to not have to pick out your clothes every day. And I loved how in shape I was, and and you know a lot about the military was really cool. But it's not for everybody. And I know that I'm much happier as a civilian than I was when I was in the military. And so you have to look inside of you and think about where you're at as, as your own individual person and take that for first you should join or not, I can't recommend it. I can't say don't do it, because that's not that's not my place. It's just like any job. Being a teacher is really hard, being a principal really hard. And it's not for everybody, but you can make a huge impact on on hundreds of people's lives. And then you don't know when that impact stops because they might impact somebody else but they will impact them and so it's just their own and whatever you need to do to do that. could be dangerous and you could be risking your life and you have to ask yourself if that's something you're willing to do and knowing that you can't just get out of it flippantly like you can some other jobs out there.
Amanda Huffman 39:10
Yeah, that's really good advice. I think that's really important. And it's the reality of what the military is. There can be some good things, but there's also a lot of sacrifice.
Laura Colbert 39:22
Hmm. And I cannot imagine being in it with with a family and being uprooted from my own children. You know, not are under my own freewill. I just can't even fathom that. But I wasn't apparent when I went. I wasn't with anybody when I went so I was great because I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do at that point in my life.
Amanda Huffman 39:45
Yeah, I that was the main driving factor why I got out of the Air Force because I didn't want to deploy and leave my son behind me during my deployment, but to have to leave behind my son. I was like, I just fit in I just couldn't do it. And if you can't do something, then you should get out of the military. So that one, that's my big like, if you don't want to do something, and something's preventing you from being 100% in then you should, then it's your time relief. So yeah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and for sharing your experience. I think I haven't. I haven't talked a lot about PTSD. With my guests. I've done it for other people's podcasts. And so to be on the interviewee side, asking the questions, and not be the one interviewed. So hopefully, I didn't push you too hard. And I really appreciate you being so open and to share your experience and you can look in the show notes and check out her book sirens how to pee standing up, and thank you so much.
Laura Colbert 40:53
And thank you for having me. It meant a lot and I'm an open book. So I don't mind talking about anything that happened.
Amanda Huffman 41:00
Thank you. All right, thanks. Bye. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Women of the Military podcast. Do you love all things women on the military podcast become a subscriber so you never miss an episode and consider leaving a review. It really helps people find the podcast and helps the podcast to grow. Are you still listening? You can be a part of the mission of telling the stories of military women by joining me on firstname.lastname@example.org slash women of the military or you can order my book women of the military on Amazon. Every dollar helps to continue the work I am doing. Are you a business owner? Do you want to get your product or service in front of the women of the military podcast audience get in touch with the woman or the military podcast team to learn more all the links on how you can support women in the military podcasts are located in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and for your support.