Teacher may not look military, but she served overseas

Laura Lanning
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“Everyone is so surprised that I am a veteran.  I’m not your typical-looking soldier, and somewhat ‘girly.’ After they accept that I actually am a veteran, it takes more time to picture me as a military policewoman,” remarked Chatfield resident and Kingsland fifth grade teacher Laura Lanning, a proud female veteran of the United States Army.

She graduated from Chatfield High School with a class of 65. She isn’t sure, but she thinks she was the only one in her class to join the military, including both males and females. After graduation, she said she really didn’t know what she wanted to be when she “grew up.”  She started classes at Rochester Community and Technical College, but soon withdrew due to her uncertainty. 

“Originally, the military hadn’t even crossed my mind,” she said. “I made the final decision when I was 19 years old, a full year after graduating high school.  I love to travel, and growing up in a small town, I was excited to see more of the world.  My family comes from a long line of military, so this seemed like a great option.” 

She talked with a recruiter in Rochester to help answer any questions she had, and within the month, she was on a plane heading for Missouri. At the time of her enlistment, her brother was in Hawaii serving with the Marines. 

“I didn’t tell him that I was enlisting because I knew he’d try to talk me out of it,” Lanning said. “I finally told him after I had the papers signed and there was no going back.” 

She did her basic training at Fort Leonard Wood and then stayed there for military police training for an additional six weeks.  After completing her time in Missouri, she came home to visit family and friends for 10 days, and then took the 13-hour flight to Germany, where she served as military police for two years. 

She was the only female in a platoon of 43, which worked together as military police, patrolling the area around Ansbach, the German city where they were stationed.  Lanning worked her way up the ranks to become an Army specialist.

The experiences in the service led to much growth for her, but she admitted she hadn’t been as prepared as she’d first imagined. 

“I was so naïve when I joined the Army,” she said. “I just thought the military would be a great way to travel, meet new people and find who I was at that young age.  While I definitely got to do all of those things, there was so much more.  I was in the military when 9/11 happened, which was scary in a way that most people don’t understand.  I was torn between doing my duty by protecting my country and wanting to run back home and be with family.  It was a great way to mature at such a young age.” 

She was discharged in 2002, at the age of 22, after spending the majority of her time in Germany, learning the culture and language.

“I still refer to so many experiences while I was there, and it’s helped me grow in so many ways, even after I’ve returned back to the States,” Lanning reflected. “One of the happiest parts of returning home, aside from seeing family and friends, was no more physical training. I swore I’d never do another push-up after becoming a civilian, which of course never happened, but that was my initial goal.”

Following her discharge from the Army, she met Tim (Akers) Lanning, who operates TJ’s Liquor in Spring Valley, and together they have four children who attend school in Chatfield – Treyton, Maddex, Hadlee and Reeyin.  Laura, who formerly worked as a photographer in her own business, PepperJack Photography, recently became a Kingsland fifth grade teacher at the start of this school year after substituting in Chatfield and other communities.

Her experience has given her the opportunity to teach her own children and her students about service to country. However, she notes that being a mom and teacher who’s worn camouflage and Army greens often flummoxes her youngsters. 

“It’s been fun teaching my own kids about my military background and experiences, and being a teacher, the classroom kiddos have endless questions.  More often than not, they demand a picture proving that I’m telling the truth.  They just can’t picture me in the military,” she said.

“Then again, classroom kids can’t picture teachers having any form of life outside of the school,” she quipped.

Reflecting on her time as a soldier in the United States Army, she advises young people contemplating enlisting to “do it. I don’t care what gender you are or what your background is.  Time doesn’t stand still, and sometimes when you get out of your comfort zone, you are able to see your most growth.”