• What does a brighter future mean to you?

    Connect with James Madison University and learn more about how our people and programs are making positive change in the world

    Subscribe to Madison; share your thoughts about the future on the Be the Change blog; or perhaps you'd like to nominate a world changer to be featured on this site.

    Consider this your invitation to
    Be the Change.

Join us to Be the Change

Coming home

Iraqi war veteran returned to JMU ROTC
Story by Clay Gaynor ('06)
Photos courtesy of Lesley Kipling ('99)

JMU grad Lesley Kipling ('99)

Can you hear me now? Thanks to communications work done in Baghdad police stations by JMU grad Lesley Kipling ('99), the answer for that city's officers is yes.

Kipling served with the Army in Iraq from March 2003 to February 2004. The former member of JMU ROTC worked with Motorola contractors and the Iraqi police to help establish a communication network between Baghdad's police stations. All told, Kipling helped deliver more than 20 million dollars of radio equipment to Iraqi police.

Building trust, making a difference

"I really felt like I made a difference," says Kipling, noting that she bonded with the Iraqi policemen she worked with. She says it took time for both sides to build trust, and that Americans "had to genuinely show you cared." But when it came time for her to leave, the policemen she helped, many of whom had never worked with a female, threw her a going away party.

Finding fellow Dukes all over the world

In addition to Iraq, Kipling's career with the Army has taken her all over the world, and wherever she's been, there have been fellow Dukes.

"Pretty much everywhere I've gone there's been JMU grads," Kipling says. Meeting these people in far-flung spots on the globe helped Kipling feel more at home. "When I'd see another JMU grad, even if we hadn't been close in college, we had an instant bond."

Capt. Lesley Kipling (99)

Capt. Lesley Kipling (99) [right] gives a birthday celebration hug to Capt. Melanie Peterson Shattan ('98). At the time, Kipling was serving as a brigade signal officer with the 18th Military Police Brigade, working closely with Baghdad police to establish communications. Shattan was serving as the brigade plans officer for the 22nd Signal Brigade.

Back at JMU with ROTC

Kipling's next stop with the Army is a little closer to home than Kosovo, Iraq, or any of the other 22 countries she's visited; she joined JMU's ROTC Department as a recruiter this summer. There's "a lot of nostalgia" at JMU she says, adding that she is excited to be back with an ROTC program that is "one of the top in the country."

Kipling says that Madison's ROTC program helped prepare her for the Army, both directly and indirectly. Her first assignment in the Army as a lieutenant was to run a rifle range, which was made easier by the fact that she had been in charge of the JMU range during college. Experiences like that one helped "put me ahead of my peers."

Her biggest fear with her new job is that it may not match the excitement she's experienced over the last five years. "What I did in Iraq was so challenging and rewarding I fear I may never see [that kind of excitement] again."

Fresh impressions, new achievements

While life in the 'Burg may be a little more tame than Iraq, Kipling is excited about her new job with the ROTC and getting to know a home that she hasn't been back to since 1999. "There are a lot more buildings," she says, adding that Harrisonburg has maintained its small-town feel, but that there appears to be more to do.

Kipling also just completed her master's degree in journalism at American University. As a journalist she wishes the news would show more positive things about the war in Iraq, such as the progress being made and the resiliency and perspective of the Iraqi people. With her new degree, Kipling could make that a reality.