In classrooms from Afghanistan to Iowa

vets bresnan2Photographs: Kurt Ullrich.

MAQUOKETA, Iowa – Shaela Bresnan was looking for a new challenge when she first enlisted in the Army Reserves.
“I thought it would be nice to have a physical challenge. Something new and exciting and different and hard,” she said.
The war in Iraq had not been going on long, and Bresnan’s recruiter informed her that she would not be deployed. The information was true to the time – most National Guard and Reserve units were not being sent overseas.
A few years later, circumstances had changed for most service members, including Bresnan. In 2009, she headed to Afghanistan to embark on an 11-month deployment.
It was an assignment she generally felt okay about.
“You go through all this training and it seems like, what are you doing it for? You’re doing it so you can do a deployment,” she said.
The assignment would eventually take Bresnan into several of the Kandahar area schools, where the Indianola, Iowa, native helped bring supplies to teachers and students through a program called Backpacks for Afghanistan.
In an interview last week, Bresnan described classrooms filled with all kinds of students.
“The age variety was pretty intense. There were women there with their babies, because they had to watch their children but they wanted an education at the same time,” she said.
Now back in the U.S., Bresnan continues to work in classrooms as an art teacher and coach in Maquoketa and Andrew, Iowa, and is a company commander in the Reserves.
More about her experience will be included in a book on U.S. servicewomen currently in the works for The University of Iowa Press. The book will feature a series of stories and photographs from women who have and are serving in the field of war as the U.S. military completes a shift to allow women to serve in combat roles.
Servicewomen from the Midwest interesting in sharing their stories may send contact info through this site or by emailing

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