Delano native Emily Larson spent 10 months serving in Iraq
By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN During her 10-month deployment to Iraq, Emily Larson was known as an Army National Guard chief warrant officer, but to her two young children, she’s simply, “mom.”
On Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, Larson plans to share her experiences with the first graders at Delano Elementary School.
Her son, William, is in Molly Stern’s first grade class.
“I can tell them a little about my different adventures in Iraq,” said Larson, who returned home in June.
She also spoke at her children’s classrooms last Christmas, when she came home for two weeks. Her daughter, Elsie, was in Linda Schmidt’s first grade class at the time.
William’s class is learning about time, so Larson said she plans to explain military time to them.
“I had a 24-hour clock over there,” she said. “It only went around once.”
Money in Iraq is also different from what children see in America, Larson said.
“They don’t have nickels, dimes, and quarters over there,” Larson said, explaining that it would be heavy and expensive to ship coins to Iraq.
Instead, they use pogs, which are double-sided circular disks made of paper. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the US Department of Defense’s largest and oldest exchange system, distributes pog-like coins as change in areas that support operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
These pogs, which have a military scene printed on one side and the value amount on the other, are much lighter and easier to ship than metal coins.
“If you buy something for 50 cents and you hand over a dollar, you’re going to get two 25-cent pogs back,” Larson explained.
Because only Congress can order US currency, the pogs are referred to as “gift certificates” instead of currency. Many soldiers donate their pogs when they leave the country, Larson said.
“I plan on passing them out to the class as a little surprise,” she added.
Larson also plans to talk to the class about the weather in Iraq.
“I didn’t worry so much about the heat,” she said. “The sandstorms were a whole new experience.”
Sandstorms weren’t Larson’s only new experience in the Middle East, however.
“I’ve stood under the oldest stone arch in the world,” she said. “I also saw a king and queen’s gravesite. It’s a very, very historical area.”
Larson also visited the city of Ur in the Dhi Qar Province of Iraq. It’s considered to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the book of Genesis as the birthplace of Abraham. While in Ur, Larson got to see a large pyramidal temple called the Ziggurat of Ur.
During her two-month deployment training at Fort Sill, OK, Larson was exposed to even more history. Fort Sill is a US Army post that was built during the Indian Wars of the 1800s.
In addition to historical learning, deployment helped Larson learn more about IT systems. She works in the IT department both in the military and as a civilian, and is employed at Quadion Corp. in Plymouth.
Larson returned from service in early June, and went back to work June 22.
“I wanted to get back in the saddle,” she said.
Overall, Larson said serving in the military has been a great experience. The “huge negative,” however, is being away from her family.
“I’d never volunteer to leave my family,” she said, adding that her husband, Everett, and family have been very supportive. Her parents, Fred and Arlene Zieske, live in Watertown, and are members of the Delano American Legion.
Larson was involved in a program called United Through Reading that allowed her to record herself reading books out loud. The DVDs were then mailed to her home for free, so her children could still have story time.
“Everett would mail the kids’ school work to me,” she added. “He was very diligent in making sure they were on track with school.”
As for future deployments, Larson is hopeful that she will be able to stay home, at least for awhile.
“I don’t anticipate going anywhere anytime soon, but there is always that possibility,” she said. “With the military, the one constant is change,”
Larson has been in the military since 1991, and has always been drawn to service-oriented work.
“I have a great husband and a great family support,” she said. Larson has lived in Delano her whole life, and graduated from Delano High School in 1984.