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"Generally, in the military service and what I've encountered in the Army is soldiers want competent leaders. It doesn't matter what color your skin is, what gender you are." (Video Interview, Part 2, 39:44)

   Laura Jane Strickland Richardson
Collection image
Laura Richardson [2007]
War: Iraq War, 2003-2011
Branch: Army
Unit: 101st Airborne Division
Service Location: Korea; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia; Iraq
Rank: Colonel
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With a private pilot's license at 17, followed by ROTC courses in college, Laura Strickland was on an early track to a career in military aviation. She met her future husband, Jim Richardson, in flight school, at a time when women were not yet allowed to fly attack aircraft. The Richardsons have managed largely parallel careers for over 20 years, including serving in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was battalion commander of an assault helicopter battalion, and he was battalion commander of an attack battalion, both supporting the same infantry brigade. After initial combat operations wrapped up, Laura Richardson found herself involved with local officials and citizens in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul, working on reconstruction projects and maintaining security.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (14 clips)
»Part 1 | Part 2 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) (104 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (14 items)
Father encouraging work ethic with sports; becoming a swimmer at the age of 4; going to Regis College in Denver, but taking ROTC at Metropolitan State, from where she graduated; taking flying lessons at 15 and getting her pilot's license at 17; grandfather an influence on her choosing military path; pre-med in college; would be either a doctor or flyer in military. (04:42) Going into officer basic course at Ft. Rucker, Alabama; basic skills were same, but women were not allowed to go into attack aircraft at that time; selected for Blackhawks; first assignment was as platoon leader and Blackhawk pilot in Korea; learning the ropes of flying; married before she left for Korea; husband joining her six months later; extending her tour, serving there for 4 years; advancing from 2nd Lieutenant to Captain while she was there. (05:40) Put on alert in Korea for possible deployment to Persian Gulf War; likely didn't go because Army did not want to draw down forces in Korea; flying corps commander at Ft. Hood; husband there as well; assigned to Washington from 1999 to 2001 as military aide of Vice President Gore; duties as an emergency action officer; traveling with him on campaign trail in 2000; responsible for logistics of his transportation on military aircraft. (06:44)
Stationed at Ft. Campbell in wake of 9/11; with prestigious history of 101st Airborne, she anticipated being involved in some action; husband deployed to Afghanistan for about six months, involved in Operation Anaconda, which went into mountains of that country; description of his mission to provide cover for infantry on ground. (04:41) Anticipating being deployed; 3 to 10 percent turnover, so there is constant training going on, with lots of new pilots to educate; responsible for coordinating training; making sure that unit of 320 people and 30 Blackhawks can support infantry brigade, also responsible for maintenance and support. (04:59) Aviation in Iraq: always having Apaches to accompany her, but they were from another brigade; now aviation brigades have a variety of aircraft to accomplish all the tasks they need done; she and her husband serving at the same time: he was commander of an attack battalion, she was commander of an assault battalion; they supported same infantry brigade; first 60 days, working with the division, leapfrogging them forward to Baghdad and beyond; supposed to air assault Baghdad International Airport, but mission was called off at last minute; later finding out Iraqi defenses were primed to defend air attack but were caught off-guard when armor rolled in. (04:30)
Planning even before they left the U.S. to anticipate terrain and conditions; never flying directly into a city but landing on outskirts; easier for enemy to hide defensive systems in urban environment; preparing for possibility of chemical attack even before crossing the berm from Kuwait; threat of Scud attacks there for 3 to 5 days; chemical suits, "almost like Star Trek suits;" always worn when flying. (04:20) Living conditions in Kuwait: brand-new camp with large non-military tents; traveling to HQ was a 90-minute drive, which kicked up sand that got into your clothes. (04:18) Mosul as far as they went into Iraq; sustained operations: conducting air assaults and missions on the ground with the community, such as reconstruction projects; assigned a geographic area of responsibility, working with mayor and city council; occupying former Iraqi air field which had been looted; wiring had been removed, windows broken, books thrown into middle of floors; conducting military operations, often outside their immediate geographic area; monitoring insurgent movement into the country from Syria; one mission involving over 100 aircraft; forming Tigris River Valley Commission to rebuild area; doing more than expected, because it was anticipated Iraqi military would surrender to U.S. side, but that did not materialize. (10:48)
Two siblings serving in the war; sister was assigned to 4th Infantry Division as a doctor; she was in Balad, north of Baghdad; brother was Army JAG officer stationed in Kuwait; he was there 3 months; her sister was there for a year, arrived a bit after Laura, left a bit later; husband was in country only 3 months, when he got a new command and returned to duty at the Pentagon; that kind of rotation in the middle of a deployment doesn't happen any more in the Army. (03:07) Suffering loss of one crew in her battalion, shot down by surface-to-air missile in November 2003; dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices and sabotage of fuel pipelines; U.S. Army escorting tankers crossing border from Turkey; her helicopters scouting ahead along the road. (03:58) Returning to U.S.; cleaning sand out of aircraft; lot of poisons in sand, so important to wash out as much of it as possible before leaving; aircraft could take 3 hours, vehicle 5 hours. (01:42)
Being a student athlete in newly created programs for young women setting her up for following the same kind of newly blazed trails in military; parents encouraging her to fly as a teenager building her confidence; since she joined the service, women have been allowed to fly attack aircraft; being athlete helped her succeed in military, though she was a swimmer, not a runner. (03:37) Soldiers want competent leaders, no matter the color or your skin or your gender. (00:57) 

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  October 26, 2011
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