Posted by: rcieri | February 21, 2010

1988 Grad Turns Army Officer: Q and A with Lt. Col. Leela J. Gray

Elon alumna Leela J. Gray bid farewell with to her family, including her daughter Bailey, before departing from the Tampa airport for Iraq.

January 20, 2010

By Rachel Cieri

Even after graduating, most college students spend years before they know what they’ll be doing the rest of their lives, but U.S. Army Lt. Col. Leela Gray knew her path by the time she was a sophomore at Elon.

Currently assigned to the Multinational Corps Iraq in Baghdad, Gray shares her insight on using her Elon education for a career in the military.

The Pendulum: What was your time at Elon like?

Leela J. Gray: Paying for college on my own meant working two jobs at times and taking student loans and the Pell Grant every semester. During my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a two-year ROTC scholarship because of my grades and potential.  Juggling a 15-18 hour per semester school load, part-time jobs, ROTC and then having the privilege and opportunity to start an Alpha Omicron Pi chapter kept me very busy and laid the groundwork for my organizational skills I use today.

P: How has Elon changed since you attended?

LG: My husband, daughter and I visited Elon this June as we were driving on our move back to Tampa, Fl. from our year at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. The campus has grown immensely since 1988 but has retained the charm and character of the college I knew.

P: How have you been able to use what you learned at Elon as a mass communications major?

LG: I loved mass communications and think the courses gave me a wonderful baseline of knowledge from which to operate. My favorites were anything dealing with video. Of course technologies and techniques have dramatically leapt forward, but many of the communication principles remain constant.

What led you to join the armed forces?

LG: Initially I joined for the scholarship money to pay for two years of tuition.  But after a few years of serving, it was the quality of the people and the fulfillment of the work that kept me serving. This was especially true after I left active duty and realized how much I missed the caliber of people I was used to working with.  It drove me to join the Army Reserve.

P: What is your role in the Army?

LG: I provide tactical and operational planning and support to the soldiers and commanders that conduct operations with the Iraqi Security Forces (that combat) terrorist and insurgent networks that seek to discredit the legitimacy of the government of Iraq.

Gray works at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, providing tactical and operational planning and support for the U.S. Army.

P: Have you ever had to serve abroad or away from your family before?

LG: I’ve been blessed to have spent a year in the Sinai, Egypt in the Multinational Force and Observes peacekeeping mission and a year in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in the Balkans, but (I) did not have a family that I had to leave behind. This deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a choice that I made in conjunction with my husband and has proved more challenging since I have a family back home and because Iraq is a very complex operational environment.

P: How does your family feel about your deployment?

LG: My husband has always encouraged my Army career pursuits.  His willingness to be a single parent while managing his career is a testament to his conviction and support.  Additionally, many friends and family always come through when we need help juggling our career requirements like traveling out of town, or just as important, when it comes time for us to have some quality alone time like date nights.  My mom and sister always seem to be there for us when we want to get away for a few days as well.

P: What have been the best and worst parts of your job?

LG: The best part of this job is seeing the positive differences and changes in Iraq because of our hard work and commitment to improving security and stability to support the government of Iraq and its people.  The worst part, as expected, is being separated from your family for such a long period of time coupled with the long hours and weeks that can leave you exhausted. There is not much reprieve from the routine.

P: Do you have any stories or memories from your time in that particularly stand out?

LG: After 21 years in the Army, I have a lot of memories —many funny, many rewarding.  But in general, what strikes me as the most memorable is the amazing life I’ve gotten to lead while experiencing incredible places such as Egypt, Israel, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Germany, Hungary, France, Italy, Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait.  I’ve had just as many neat experiences serving here in the United States and representing the U.S. Army at events and ceremonies throughout the country.

P: What are you most looking forward to in the future?

LG: The immediate future —a few months from now —holds time with my family and friends in Tampa, Fl. when I return in spring 2010.   In my long term future, I expect to enjoy continued adventures in service to our country as an Army Reserve Soldier.


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