Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (1/5/12) - "I wanted to make my dad proud." The pen struck the parchment leaving her signature - Michelle C. Lawrence - above her father's, she recalled. Weeks later on her 17th birthday, she became the third generation of her Family to raise her right hand and recite the Oath of Enlistment, said U.S. Army Spc. Michelle Lawrence, 35th Military Police Company combat medic currently serving as a unit public affairs representative for the 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army National Guard.
"That was her goal [to join the Army National Guard]. That's what she wanted to do, and I wasn't going to stop her," said John Lawrence, Lawrence's father, a resident of Dighton, Kan., and a U.S. Army veteran.
A little more than three years after joining the Kansas Army National Guard as a combat medic, Lawrence is covering the efforts of Soldiers deployed to Africa thanks to a vacancy within the unit and leadership who realized her potential.
"Specialist Lawrence is one of a select few very influential public affairs representatives in my battalion achieving my communication plan," said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Burke, 1-161 FA BN commander. "I knew coming into this mobilization that communication with our military supporters, the general public in the state of Kansas and employers was vital to maintaining both public support for the mission and employer support for the Soldiers."
Lawrence wrote stories highlighting what U.S. Soldiers did in countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique, Burundi and Kenya. "They tell the story of how relationships with our counterparts are going beyond the skills of building partner nation capacity. Soldiers from both countries are learning that both countries want peace, stability and better futures for ourselves and our children." Burke said. "Specialist Lawrence tells how working together, we can strive to meet that goal."
"Lawrence does a great job of telling the story from the Soldier's perspective," he added.
Although she receives praise for her stories and photos, Lawrence never thought she would be serving her country as a journalist or a photographer. As a high school junior, Lawrence looked forward to becoming a combat medic and serving her country, she said.
Although she was inspired by her father to become a Soldier, it was her mother, a nurse, who led her to become a combat medic. "My mom is a nurse. I have always wanted to help people like she does," Lawrence said.
It was while attending advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to become a combat medic, Pvt. Lawrence called back to her unit and received the unexpected news that she would be deploying. "I happened to call my unit ... out of nowhere they said 'by the way, we are going to Africa next year and you are going with us,'" Lawrence said. After the initial shock, Lawrence said she was excited to deploy to Africa. "I was pretty much pumped," Lawrence said. "I had never been outside the U.S."
A year after the phone call, 20-year old Spc. Lawrence arrived at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and once again received unexpected news. The mission she was assigned to had one too many people. Although she was a combat medic, she was being reassigned to meet the needs of the battalion and would be working as a unit public affairs representative. "I didn't know anything about public affairs. I didn't know how to write a story. I didn't know how to take a good photo. I didn't even know how to use one of these cameras," Lawrence said.
Upon being assigned to the 1-161 FA public affairs office, Lawrence was placed in the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa public affairs office as the battalion's public affairs liaison with the task force.
It was there that a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, skilled in public affairs, helped her tell the story of the Kansas Army National Guard Soldiers serving at Camp Lemonnier and throughout the African continent, she said.
"I don't think I would be where I am now if he had not taken me under his wing like he did. He took time out of his day off of his work schedule to teach me photography and how write," Lawrence said.
Ever since learning the tricks of the trade, Lawrence has been highlighting what Soldiers deployed to Africa are doing, said Army Staff Sgt. Daryl Davis, 1-161 FA BN public affairs office, non-commissioned officer in charge.
"Within a short period of time she began to churn out remarkable articles and photos," Davis said. "She is always willing and very capable of handling all assignments. She even volunteered for several others, and continues to impress."
According to her father, it is no surprise Lawrence has proved capable of serving her country outside of her skill set as a combat medic.
"That is the way Michelle is," John Lawrence said. "She will go after any task with the best of her ability and not complain."
Her beliefs probably have a lot to do with her diligence and work ethic, he said.
"President Kennedy made a statement ... 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,'" John Lawrence said, quoting U.S. President John F. Kennedy. "I believe in that whole heartedly. I think Michelle does too."
"I'm really proud of her - her mother is too," he added.