The shores of the world’s second largest fresh water body, Lake Victoria, rest nearby. Gorillas roam the land’s heavy tropical forests, and snowcapped mountains are easily accessible. Kenya lies to the east, Sudan to the north, and Zaire to the west. This is Uganda, present home to U.S. Air Force Captain Laura Whitman Laskowski (VU ’04).
A member of Valpo’s first Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) class, Laura leads a team of US military and civilians assigned to help the Ugandan military increase their capability. With an air force only five years old, Uganda needs to build capacity in order to better provide security against the violent extremist organizations that operate in the region.
“My Air Force career has taken me to many different corners of the world,” Laura says. “The many opportunities I had at Valpo to come into contact with and learn about various cultures have directly helped me adapt to military service and to work more effectively in countries as diverse as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Germany, and Italy.”
The opportunities to which this political science major refers included study abroad in Reutlingen and participating in Dr. Lin’s spring break research trip to China, where she fondly remembers attempting to eat a duck foot!
Though obviously already open to new adventures as a college student, Laura credits VU for instilling in her “a continual desire to learn new things no matter what the subject.” That desire has spurred her to pursue a masters degree in International Relations through the University of Oklahoma and to earn a Competent Communicator certificate through Toastmasters International. Following her Ugandan deployment, this soldier plans to continue building communication skills by re-joining Toastmasters at the air base in Kaiserslautern, Germany. More importantly, she’ll also re-join husband Brian (VU ’04) in Kaiserslautern, where he teaches math to middle schoolers at the Department of Defense School.
Back when Laura was researching colleges, her father, Department Chair of Philosophy and Religion at Susquehanna University, and his colleagues touted Valpo’s strong academic reputation. So she visited VU along with seven other campuses, ultimately applying only to VU and one other school.
“I decided that I wanted to enter my freshman year undecided on a major and that at Valpo any major I went with would provide me with a solid foundation,” she proudly explains.
Laura joined ROTC as a means of meeting people on campus, deciding to give it a try for a year. She found the program had friends and much more to offer her.
“We took a C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida,” Laura recalls. “We toured the installations and were briefed about various military careers. Just flying on a military aircraft was interesting at the time, not to mention escaping the Indiana cold for a few days. The biggest advantage of ROTC by far, though, was the knowledge that I had a job right out of college. It was almost strange during my senior year to watch everyone else scramble to apply for jobs or additional schooling, go to interviews, and attend job fairs. That’s when I realized that my life was about to take a different sort of path from the rest of my friends and peers around me.”
That path now has her water rafting on the Nile River, hiking through rhino sanctuaries, fishing in Lake Victoria, and taking vehicle safaris to observe hippos, giraffes, elephants, and other large African animals. Oh, yes. And watching monkeys swing through the treetops outside her room.