Sheri Chase, a 2009 graduate from the Chemical Engineering Department, recently returned from a year-long tour of duty in Iraq as one of the 170 members from the Army National Guard's 747th Military Police Company, based in Ware, Massachusetts. Chase, who successfully completed the Boston Marathon several years ago with her mother, was featured in an article in the Hampshire Gazette. Chase, a sergeant, joined the 747th in 2003, during her senior year at Northampton High School. "I didn't want to do something predictable after I graduated," she told the Gazette. "I also wanted to be in great shape."
According to the newspaper story, the thing she missed during her military tour was not being able to wear her long hair loose. After her return, Chase, 25, was enjoying the simple comforts of home, including easy access to a cell phone. "It's great being able to let my hair down and wear what I want to wear," she said.
Her company - which suffered no casualties or injuries while carrying out its mission to train Iraqi police forces - was met at Ware High School by a crowd of more than 500 cheering onlookers, dignitaries, and a state police escort.
She trained one weekend a month while earning a chemical engineering undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst. Chemical engineering was a field she thought would "go hand in hand with my military career." Chase graduated from college in the spring of 2009 - on the same day as her mom, Rae Ann Frenette, who earned a degree in business administration.
In Iraq, Chase worked as a chemical operations specialist in Ramadi and then at the giant Al Asad airbase in Al Anbar province, helping to supply her unit as members traveled across the country.
Her administrative duties kept her out of obvious danger, though not free from anxiety. "There were always people I worried about," Chase said. When friends would go on assignments off-base, "I wouldn't be able to breathe until they got back."
During her time in Iraq, the U.S. military presence in that country was slowly winding down. President Barack Obama has pledged to end combat operations in Iraq by the end of August and reduce the number of troops stationed there to 50,000. The New York Times reported that U.S. forces in Iraq have already dropped from 112,000 to 80,000 since the start of this year.
When asked what companies like hers will face in the future, Chase is upbeat. "That country has come a long way," she said. "I can't speak for those above me, but it seems like there is a pretty positive attitude there right now." (July 2010)