A funny thing happened on her way to becoming a microbiologist
by Mary Ann Reese
First Lieutenant Amy Torguson admits she's a little surprised she's already spent a year in Iraq as leader of an otherwise all-male platoon. Now back at Fort Bragg, executive officer in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, Alpha Company, she is committed to a 20-plus year U.S. Army career.
Only a few years ago she was busy at the University of Idaho playing intramural
basketball, volleyball and softball, teaching undergraduate microbiology classes,
and getting her bachelor of science degrees in microbiology and in molecular biology
and biochemistry, along with a minor in chemistry.
After a year off to earn money, she returned
to the UI in 2001 to begin her quest for a master's degree in molecular biology
and biochemistry. This year, assuming she completes her thesis exploring one way
to clean up hazardous wastes at INEEL near Rochelle own a UI master's degree with
a 4.0 grade-point-average.
I originally thought I'd become a pediatrician,” she recalled
in a recent telephone interview from Ft. Bragg. Her jog in the road to Iraq
came because of, well, jogging. While running laps at 6:30 a.m. in the UI Kibbie
Domeher one chance to unwind” during 18-hour graduate student days she'd
banter with the campus ROTC's recruiter, then Major Jim Zuba, also a jogger. Wouldn't
you like to get paid for running these laps?” he'd tease.
I wasn't interested in ROTC or the military,” says Torguson. But one day Zuba upped the stakes with a basketball challenge. You win, I leave you alone. I win, you join my class.”
He smoked me. I joined his class, and that was it.” She immediately loved ROTC and the Army. I had assumed it would be too controlling. But it was exciting. I had the opportunity to shoot the M16A2 rifle, rappel down from the 75-foot walkway in the Kibbie Dome as Joe Vandal, and climb through the forests surrounding the UI conducting battle drills and land navigation with just a canteen, map, protractor, and compass.”
Torguson was cadet battalion commander for the UI ROTC program in 2001. The same year, she won the national Pallas Athene award given annually by the Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association, acknowledging her as one of the top four female cadets in the nation.
Geared up for a Blackhawk helicopter
ride in Iraque, Amy Torguson is pictured
onroute to visit platoon members
At center, UI student Amy takes
a break from her microbiology lab work.
At top, a salute near a U.S. flag is all
it takes for Amy's promotion from
second to first lieutenant.
One of the brightest students
Don Crawford, her major professor, calls Amy one of the brightest students I have had in my 30-year career at the UI.” Despite doubling her workload when she joined ROTC, recalls Crawford, she managed to continue her graduate program and do her research while performing at the highest level in ROTC.”
Amy has the potential to affect today's Army because of her intelligence and drive,” believes Zuba, her ROTC recruiter, now retired from the U.S. Army. She is a real leader and motivator. I would serve in her platoon/company in a heartbeat.”
In 2001 she accepted a commission as 2nd lieutenant and set her sights on the highly selective 519th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Bragg. I knew it would be deployed [to Iraq] soon, and I wanted to go. Fort Bragg is the most deployed base in the Army. It's not a question of whether; it's a question of when.”
Why so eager to go to Iraq?
Her answer comes easily. The mission of the Army is to fight and win America's wars. The only way you can truly experience the Army at its fullest is in war. That's where I believe good officers are most needed and can help the most.”
From November 2004 through November 2005, Torguson served in the Baghdad area as an officer in charge of intelligence gathering teams operating throughout central Iraq. The information they collected and analyzed helped battlefield commanders understand what was happening in their areas of operation and what might be coming.
Regardless of how busy the job got missing meals, sleeping on
floors, wearing the same uniform for days she wrote the parents of every soldier
who served with her, thanking them for their sons.
Amy always had a heart for helping people,” says her mom, Marilyn, from the town of Latah, Washington, population 150, where Torguson grew up. She takes a great personal interest in and cares about all of the soldiers who work with her.”
Torguson found the Iraqis she encountered to be generally very supportive. … I got to see the rebuilding of electricity and water plants, people receiving medical supplies for the first time, our soldiers passing out backpacks and soccer balls to kids who had not previously had the chance to go to school.”
Torguson flew over much of Iraq by Blackhawk helicopter enroute to visiting her soliders. She remembers seeing a small Iraqi boy tending his goats who took his shirt off as fast as he could and waved it over his head back and fourth with all of his might to say hello to the Americans.”
Another time, as she convoyed through a village, the children flocked to the edges of the road, literally running, to wave, give us thumbs up signs, and say hi. These are types of things you don't hear about in the news and media, but they are what makes it all worth it for the soldiers.”
Torguson lost only one friend during her stay in Iraq. The soldier was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) while riding in a military Humvee eight days before he was to return home.
On being a female officer, and romance
As far as the stigmatism that surrounds females in the military, I ignore it,” Torguson says. I work really hard and I truly care about my soldiers; that's what it is all about.” She adds, however, It helps that I run really fast and that I'm 6-foot-1.
I never ask my soldiers to do something I wouldn't. If we go out on a ruck march, my ruck sack is the heaviest. That was until my soldiers found out. They immediately began adding weight. It's become something of a competition. Who can ruck farther/faster?”
Romance? Yes, It's difficult,” says Torguson. Recently she dated an officer who was getting ready to deploy within the year. I don't see him much, but I understand because my life is the same way; busy all the time.” They found time for the occasional movie, hockey game, rodeo or concert, ran half-marathons together, and went to church.
A true Vandal
Torguson calls herself a true Vandal to my soul” and drives a car painted black and gold. She likens the people she met at the UI to family. Everyone takes care of each other and genuinely wants to see each individual succeed.
I learned that with hard work and determination you can accomplish anything.”
Amy turned 28 in June. Eligible for captain in September, her next goal is to complete airborne school and join the 82nd Airborne Division. They have a great Army mentality, soldiers that love the military, and love what they do. It is very fast paced. You work long hours, but you are the best of the best.
I like that.”