AWSA Authors: Sirens: How to Pee Standing Up-An Alarming Memoir of Combat and Coming Back Home

by Laura Colbert, Principal, Waupaca Middle School

Laura is the Waupaca Middle School principal. She was raised in a family where service was embedded into their every fiber. Her mom worked as an area coordinator for Head Start, and her dad owned his own consulting firm where he developed programs across the state for at-risk youth. Laura was given the opportunity and honor to pay for college on her own, even though it might not have seemed like it at the time. This taught her resilience, money-management, and a sense of pride. Six months before September 11th, the United States was living with long-standing peace. It seemed like the perfect time to join the National Guard. It was a great way to serve our great country, stay in shape, pay for college, and enjoy adventures. That's exactly what Laura did in March of 2001. Once September 11th happened, her 32nd Military Police Company began to prepare for deployment. 

Laura's company was deployed in March 2003, in the middle of her junior year of college at UW-Madison. Her athleticism led her to become a PE teacher because she had always wanted to teach and mentor youth. She found her niche teaching adventure education where she could embed community, team-building, and new heights (pun intended) into her curriculum. 

When asked to describe her book, Laura writes:

Our 16-month deployment took us to Baghdad, Iraq, where we trained the Iraqi police officers, escorted international delegates, and guarded various locations. I kept a daily journal throughout the deployment, which laid the foundation for my memoir about my combat experience. Written from a woman's perspective, I talk about the intimate details of day-to-day life and the harrowing near-death experiences that have changed me forever. My drive to educate gave me the nudge I needed to continuously journal even after long and arduous days. I wanted to share my experience with others to enlighten people who found themselves removed from the war. Technically, women weren't allowed on the front lines, but we were interchangeable with the infantry on many missions; we had no front lines. 

The first section of the book talks about my life prior to war―how it’s hard to consider myself the same person. As a civilian, I was a pacifist who chose to communicate rather than fight. I was also a trained soldier who had found a new identity in which I wanted to retaliate against a non-existent enemy―thanks to Basic Training. I was forced to compartmentalize for self-preservation. 

The second section outlines the beginning of the deployment when we were optimistic about our mission and seemed to be making positive changes. It felt like we were winning the hearts and minds and rebuilding a torn country. My college and military experience felt like enough preparation for this portion of this war. 

Unfortunately, our deployment lasted much longer than we had anticipated, and the insurgents were multiplying exponentially, which meant that the latter part of our deployment felt more like an occupation than that of liberation. The third part of the book outlines that difficult transition and shares many life-altering stories. Tragedies unfolded day after day, and our hard work seemed to be crumbling around us. Nothing could have prepared me for this portion of my deployment. 

The last section of the book talks about how my life was overtaken by post-traumatic stress and moral injury. What is this newfangled term: moral injury? Imagine throwing aside your morals and values―what you innately know to be right and true―and doing the exact opposite while at war. No wonder soldiers return home unable to talk about their experiences. The shame and guilt of who they have become make it difficult to reintegrate into their old lifestyle.

My book was not only written as a therapeutic tool, but as a way to help others: other soldiers, other trauma victims, and those who want to support them. Many people suffer from mental health issues and are too afraid or too bull-headed to get the help they deserve. It took me longer to seek help than it should have because I believed I could fix this problem on my own. I was a trained soldier, after all. I was wrong; I needed help.

Additionally, there are so many civilians who are disconnected from our two most current wars. The media stopped talking about Iraq and Afghanistan long ago, and soldiers are still there, risking their lives. Ask yourself: “What do I know about modern warfare?” 

If anything, I hope this story helps others realize the importance of self-care―that life is short, so we need to make the most out of the time we have. It's okay to not be okay. Do not be afraid to get the help that could turn your life around. Education can be one of the most rewarding careers available, but it can also bring gobs of stress. Remember to do what is right. Take care of yourself, find joy, stay positive, and keep fighting for the education of our youth.

Laura has given hundreds of presentations about her experience and continues to do so to shed light on an oftentimes forgotten war.



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