By Debra Holtz

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What Amanda Labrum remembers best about Iraq are the children. She often saw them while patrolling with the Army National Guard’s 81st Brigade Combat Team.

“One little girl who I tried to speak to with my very limited Arabic vocabulary took her necklace off and gave it to me when I told her it was beautiful,” Labrum recalls. “It was made of small wooden beads on an elastic string and it appeared to be one of few possessions she had, but she insisted I take it.”

Moments like those were part of Labrum’s job as a journalist for the brigade’s monthly newspaper, the Desert Raven. Labrum kept the necklace as a memento of the day she went 60 miles north of Baghdad to a school that had been converted into a makeshift medical clinic. It was part of an Army civil affairs project that also distributed hygiene supplies, soup and toys for the children.

“These are things that are readily available and taken for granted in America, and people stood in line all day in the sun on a day that was well into the 120s,” she says. “Everyone I saw was so grateful to receive these things that I had never really thought much about.”

After high school, Labrum joined the Army National Guard in 2000 to help pay for college. She began her studies at the University of Washington, but was forced to withdraw when her brigade was activated and deployed to Iraq in 2003. When she returned in 2005, her classmates had graduated. She found it difficult to make new friends at such a large school, so she transferred to Saint Mary’s.

“My passion for learning greatly increased during my time in Iraq, and since your worst day at home is still better than your best day in Iraq, it made the everyday trials and tribulations of student life much more bearable,” she says.

Her interest in writing grew at Saint Mary’s, largely because of the personal attention she received from English professors like Rosemary Graham.

“Fantastic teachers made SMC a great experience for me,” Labrum says.

Now working for a private investment firm in Palo Alto, she says she hopes to finish a nonfiction book that she began in a writing class and perhaps, some day, to write a memoir about her experience in Iraq.

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