Honoring our Women Veterans - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System

 

Honoring our Women Veterans

A soldier with her family

Lorrie Sorenson poses for a photo with her four children after graduating from Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

By Nathan Schaeffer, Public Affairs Specialist
Thursday, March 8, 2018

Throughout our history, the important contributions of women in our nation’s defense and as part of the Veteran population cannot be overstated. VA dedicates Women’s History Month in March to remember women who served our nation throughout history.

This observance grants deserved recognition and acknowledges the achievements of women in the military.

Keep reading to learn about an Oklahoma Veteran who sacrificed to defend our freedom.

“I had never been away from my children”

In May 2001, 35-year-old Lorrie Sorenson, a mother to four children, wanted to become a registered nurse to provide for her family.

So Sorenson met with an Army Recruiter and learned that the Oklahoma National Guard offered a $20,000 education bonus. A month prior to her 36th birthday, also the cut off age for new Army recruits, Sorenson decided to enlist.

“I had never been away from my children,” said Sorenson, who receives health care at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. “I thought I would join the National Guard and serve one weekend a month, two weeks out of the summer. I can handle that. My kids can handle that.”

In 2002, Sorenson completed 10 weeks of Basic Training in South Carolina, and then 18 weeks of combat medic training in San Antonio.

After training, Sorenson returned to Oklahoma and was assigned to the 120th Engineer Battalion.

In November 2003, while attending classes at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Sorenson’s unit received mobilization orders to deploy to Iraq.

“It was crazy leaving the kids,” said Sorenson. “What they felt, I can’t imagine. I know they hated me for a while. It was tough for everybody. You just have to put it out of your mind and refocus.”

FOB Wolf

In February 2004, the 120th Engineer Battalion deployed to Iraq. Out of approximately 1,000 soldiers in the battalion, approximately 60 were women, and among the nine field medics, Sorenson was one of two women.

Assigned to Alpha Company, Sorenson was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wolf, located north of  Al Asad, Iraq.

Their mission was to provide security for explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) teams that were tasked with destroying stockpiles of Iraqi ammunition, so it would not fall into insurgent hands.

“We were at Wolf for 10 weeks and it was one of Saddam’s stockpiles,” said Sorenson. “There were more than 300 of these sites in Iraq.”

Every day at 1 p.m., the EOD teams detonated weapons. Sorenson provided medical attention to soldiers as needed, both on missions and when they returned to FOB Wolf.

“We would go out and treat whoever needed to be treated,” she said. “Mainly it was bumps, bruises and cuts.”

Soldier in Iraq

Lorrie Sorenson poses for a photo at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.

Fallujah, Iraq

After two weeks of leave in Oklahoma, Sorenson was transferred to Bravo Company and sent to Camp Fallujah where she served her remaining time in Iraq from July 2004 to February 2005.

“(Fallujah) was a whole different creature,” she said. “It was all under the Marines. We were one of the few (soldiers) that were there.”

Sorenson said the soldiers dealt with occasional rocket bombings at FOB Wolf, but it was nothing compared to Fallujah.

“We got rocketed every day,” she said. “One day, we had 17 incoming. The Marines had a cannon a quarter of a mile up the road and they would be constantly shooting back. You got to where you could tell by the sound, what was incoming and what was outgoing. It just became a way of life.”

In Fallujah, Bravo Company built six miles of roads on the Fallujah Bypass, and Sorenson went out with the soldiers on the daily missions.

“I would be out every morning at 4 o’clock getting the water,” she said. “That was kind of my job. I made sure everybody drank water and made sure they were okay out on the site. Typically, people didn’t get hurt there. It was usually when we got back to our compound that they hit me with other things.”

However, she described September 16, 2004 as a “day from hell.”

Insurgents planted an improvised explosive device (IED) along the highway, and detonated it while a Marine operated tank drove near it.

“They were watching us,” said Sorenson. “We drove past it 15 times. The dump trucks were going by it. Maybe they thought the tank was the higher (value) target.”

The IED attack took the life of Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Stern, a 24-year-old from Germantown, Tenn., and wounded others.

“We threw him in a jeep and I got an IV in him,” she said. “I got him to the hospital. His heart was still beating. They got him to Germany, but he didn’t make it.”

“It was pretty rough after that,” she said. “We didn’t lose anymore. That was my job. My job was to make sure we get everybody back alive if we can.”

Solder in Iraq

Lorrie Sorenson poses for a photo in February 2005 in Iraq.

Being a Woman Veteran

Despite years of war and the inclusion of women on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sorenson said the American public still hasn’t fully changed their perception of women in the military.

“People don’t usually see women as Veterans,” she said. “There is a gender bias. I usually don’t get offended unless it’s someone that’s supposed to be in a position of authority.”

After returning home from combat, Sorenson earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration from Northeastern State University, and currently lives in Tahlequah. She has five grandchildren with two more on the way.

“I love getting my children and grandchildren t-shirts that say ‘My grandmother served’ or ‘My mom served’,” she said. “I am very honored to have served.”

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