Operation Iraqi Freedom: Wisconsin Women Were There Proving Their Skill

Among the First to Arrive

On March 20, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) officially began. More than 3,900 active Wisconsin troops deployed to Iraq. Among the first Wisconsin units to arrive was the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police Company. In preparation for major combat actions, medical personnel also deployed to the theatre in February 2003.

Wisconsin women were there contributing various skills to the mission. Although those skillsets differed, the need to prove themselves to their colleagues is a uniting theme to their service and one common for all women who serve. Included in these troops were Wisconsin natives, Lt. Brooke Boushon of Madison and Sgt. Laura Naylor, now Colbert, of Waupaca.

Brooke Boushon - ICU Nurse, U.S. Air Force

Brooke Boushon served as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse with the Air force in Iraq and Jordan. She entered active-duty September 2, 2001, just before the 9/11 attacks, and just a year after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a nursing degree. During her deployment she mainly worked in the ICU and the emergency room. As a nurse Lt. Boushon dealt with a wide variety of ailments from third degree burns to heart attacks to tooth removals.

In her oral history, Lt. Boushon talked about her experience with Special Forces patients, where discretion was vital to the point where the patients were addressed by numbers, not names. Her memory was tested as they were allowed to document anything about the patients, and so they had to memorize the health information for each patient along with any medications they were given. Lt. Boushon discussed riding on helicopters with patients to Baghdad and other places to get CT scans.

Despite having critical medical skills vital to the mission’s success, Lt. Boushon had to deal with sexism during her deployment, “People acted like I didn't know anything, like I was a dumb blonde that I--the only reason that I was working in the ICU was because they had no other place to put me. It's like, I would say something, and people would just totally discount it because I'm the one that said it. And I would get so mad. So then I'd have to pull out a textbook, or look it up on the internet, or show them, "Hey, no. This is actually what the research says." And then they'd be like, oh okay, well maybe she knows what she talking about.

"But it's like I constantly felt like I had to prove myself, because then otherwise people just wouldn't take me seriously.” 

Laura Colbert of Waupaca served in the National Guard’s 32nd Military Company and had joined the army just months before the September 11th attacks. In deployment she spent 16 months in Iraq, operating as a Humvee driver, an Iraqi Police Officer Trainer, and in rebuilding the police stations that were attacked. Laura Colbert had the special experience of having a high ratio of women to men in her company, but that didn’t stop her from experiencing culture shocks while in service.

“[I]f you're an infantry person, you don't work--or infantryman, you don't work with women, they have no idea what we're capable of doing. Just like my brother said, "I never thought I'd be here with all these women and all these guns." And so, it--there was a lot of stereotypes to break while we were over there, and I think we did a very good job of breaking them.”

These women without a doubt were invaluable to their team as people with heart, courage, and dedication. They serve as an inspiration that our capabilities are not what other believe of us, but what we determine it to be.

Laura Naylor Colbert Collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Laura Naylor Colbert Collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Laura Naylor Colbert Collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Laura Naylor Colbert Collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum