(WFRV) – “Well, when I signed up one of my really good friends said, ‘Do it, what’s going to happen in the next six years?’ Because we had been living in such a long peacetime and when it came to fruition, it was a little bit of a shock.”

When Waupaca’s Laura Colbert enlisted in the U.S. Army National guard in 2001, she was just a college freshman hoping to stay fit as a college athlete.

“I was a freshman and realized that my parents weren’t going to be able to help me pay for college like I had hoped, so I had to figure out my own way to get through and I didn’t really want college debt so I decided I was going to join the military. I needed a way to stay in shape because I was in crew, and I really love adventure, I wanted to serve our country.”

Little did she know, just seven months into her six-year stint and in the middle of her college career, the world would change on September 11th.

“We got deployed in March of my junior year, so I had to drop all of my classes, move out of my home, and go to Baghdad, Iraq for sixteen months. So it was a year-and-a-half of school that I missed.”

Colbert was a military police officer for 16 months while she was deployed. She kept a journal of her experience every day until she returned home.

But Colbert found the weight of returning home to be heavier than she expected as she struggled with late-onset PTSD until she realized she wasn’t alone.

“Everybody is fighting their own internal battle regardless of where you are in life or what you’re going through. And so, coming home and having that realization, it laid heavy on my heart. And it wasn’t until I met up with my Army girls about six months after I got home that they were all going through the same thing, and I felt a little bit lighter.”

Colbert found her therapy in another form too- taking those hundreds of pages of journals from her bunker in Baghdad, and laying them out into a book- Sirens, hoping to help others understand the complicated life of a soldier.

But for Colbert, the message is really simple.

“It’s okay to not be okay. And if you need somebody to talk to the veteran community is very large and we’re to help each other out. So, I don’t claim to speak for all veterans but hopefully what I can do is bridge some of that understanding between the civilian and the military.”