Dr. Laura Dawson grew up in a military family with two brothers and one sister. Her father served in the Military Police while her mother raised the children and volunteered. She was active in sports, playing field hockey and softball, and attended two different high schools. In college, she majored in secondary education and transferred from Florida College in Tampa to the University of North Alabama, where she joined ROTC to help pay for college. She had planned on getting a reserve commission and teaching school, but she did so well at Advanced Camp that she earned her first choice for branch and received an Active Duty commission. She was not happy with that. Her first assignment was in Korea with the 348th Supply and Support Company at Camp Humphries, where part of her duties involved liquid logistics and operating ROWPUs (Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit). After returning from Korea, she served as the Executive Officer in the 277th Quartermaster Company at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. In this assignment, she deployed as an individual augmentee assigned to the 800th Military Police Brigade during Operation Desert Shield / Desert Storm. She served as the S4 for a prison camp holding more than 24,000 Iraqi POWs, noting that the camp “ran out of space” due to the large number of Iraqis surrendering. Some of the challenges of this assignment included providing Halal meals and cigarettes for the prisoners. Returning from her deployment, she became the acting commander of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 61st Infantry, a basic training company at Ft. Jackson. In 1991, she was offered the opportunity to transition to Aviation and reported to Ft. Rucker, Alabama, for flight school. After becoming a pilot, she returned to Korea, where she served as the Executive Officer for A Company, 3rd Battalion, 501st Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Company. At this time, women were first allowed to serve as pilots in Cavalry units, and she transitioned to flying the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. She was then assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, where she started as the S3 (Operations Officer) for 4th Squadron. She was the first woman to serve in 4/2 ACR, and became the first woman to command a Cavalry Troop when she was assigned to P Troop, 4/2 ACR. After her time in the Cavalry, she was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield and became the Production Control Officer for K Company, 1st Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment from 1995 to 1996. She then transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division Aviation Regiment and served as the S4 and Budget Officer, deploying to Ali Al Salem in support of Operation Desert Thunder. When she returned from that deployment, she served in the First Army’s G3 Plans and Training Division in an AC/RC (Active Component / Reserve Component) assignment. While in this assignment, she began thinking about attending medical school. With two young children at home, one of the most challenging aspects was time management, but she graduated from the Kansas City University, completed an orthopedic surgery residency at Texas Tech University Health Service Center and the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, and a fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She was then assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and deployed to FOB Fenty in Afghanistan with the 759th Forward Surgical Team. After her service in the 101st, she was reassigned to Keller Army Community Hospital, where she is the deputy commander of clinical services and the team doctor for numerous athletic teams. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she managed West Point’s response to the virus, including overseeing the testing required prior to athletic competitions.
In this interview, she talks about her childhood, her experiences in college and ROTC, and her service in the Army. She shares examples of her diverse experiences in different branches. As a trailblazer for women in the Air Cavalry, she experienced some resistance from a self-appointed “gatekeeper” who seemed intent on preventing women from flying the Kiowa Warrior. She highlights some of the types of cases she treated as a doctor in Afghanistan, and discusses the evolving response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, she reflects on what her service means to her.