VICENZA, Italy - In honor of Women’s History Month, U.S. Army Garrison Italy is sharing an interview that was originally published in a monthly Italian magazine called Area3 in February 2021.
Area3 wrote a feature story on servicewomen and their impressions about life in the military. Because the U.S. Army in Vicenza has a longstanding tradition of integration and partnership with the local community, the editor asked for contribution from select female Soldiers from the two U.S. Army installations in the Vicenza area.
Maj. Leslie A. Shipp, U.S. Army Garrison Italy executive officer, , is assigned to Caserma Ederle. The 39-year-old logistician native of Cincinnati, Ohio, has served in Italy since July 2019. Mother of two, in her 16 years of service she deployed to Iraq and served for six years in South Korea.
Q. Why did you join the Army? Where did the idea come from? Rather, was it a sudden decision?
A. I joined the Army because I am fifth generation Army on my father’s side (Jerry L. Shipp, Sr.). All the men in my family join the Army to do at least four years. I am the first female to join, and this was out of sheer luck because I was like every normal teenage daughter I thought every idea my dad had was horrible, but my dad told me about the ROTC scholarship and I applied on the last day possible. Well long story short, I received a four-year scholarship to college and sixteen years later I am still in the Army, literally MARRIED to the Army (my husband is also a Soldier), gave birth to hopefully the sixth generation of Army men, and still LOVING the Army.
Q. What were your first impressions when you entered the military?
A. I LOVED IT! I love structure and organization. When I was told where to be, at what time, in what uniform, I was only too excited.
Q. How is the female presence received by male colleagues?
It depends on the male colleagues. A strong female intimidates some males, and some welcome me. I grew up with two brothers, one older and one younger, so I have no fear when dealing with my male counterparts. I find the true leaders are the ones who do not see gender when we are working.
Q. What are the challenges still to be resolved to complete the integration process?
A. Women still have to prove themselves when they arrive. I can walk into a room with a male peer that is the same rank and branch as myself, but it is assumed he knows more than I do about our job and the Army. I have to prove myself and over explain things, to show I know what I am talking about just to show I am equal to my male counterpart not ever better than him even if I am.
Q. What was your most significant experience during your years of service?
A. My most significant experience during my sixteen years of service was serving as the Support Operations Officer for the 6th Ordnance Battalion in Korea. While serving as the “SPO,” I not only supported ammunition on the Korean peninsula, but I supported the operation that would evacuate all the Families if we went to war. It was one of the most stressful times in my and my Family’s life, but one of the most rewarding. Not only did I learn a lot about ammunition, evacuation operation, personal limits, and mental exhaustion; I learned to see myself through my son’s eyes, as they would visit me at work only to get excited to see all the cool things Mommy was doing.
Q. Other than Italy, where did you deploy overseas?
A. I have served in Korea twice (six years total) and Iraq (10 months).
Q. When you deployed, how did you tell your loved ones you were being deployed?
A. Funny story, other than my first time going to Korea as my first duty station, I have always asked my parents to watch my dog(s) as a way of telling them I am heading overseas. I got my first dog Max, a gorgeous golden retriever, while stationed in Korea as a 2nd lieutenant. Max went to stay with my parents while I went on a military transition team in Iraq for 10 months; then he was back with me until I went back to Korea in 2015. At the age of 10 years old, I did not want to put Max through the stress of the 18-hour flight to Korea so he went to stay with my parents again for three years while his younger brother Leroy Brown, our chocolate labrador, who was only 5-years-old, made the flight. When we found out we were coming to Italy from Korea, Leroy was already at my parents with his brother Max as we flew him ahead of us as traveling with dogs is stressful. However, Leroy is still at my parents right now as his travel plans were put on hold last year due to COVID.
Q. How do manage the balance between family and work?
A. I DON’T! I am always cheating on one to make the other one happy. Either I leave the office early to make a kid’s game or school event, or I am staying late a work to get things complete. The one thing I do know is I make the time count where I am at; if I am at work, I am the best officer I can be in the United States Army, and when I am at home, I am the best mom and wife they could ask for! I also have to say I have survived the past sixteen years with village of supporters that have stepped in to lend a helping hand when my family or I needed it!
Q. Has being a woman proved to be an added value in many cases?
A. YES! I have emotional intelligence, and can often read a room faster than most of my male counterparts. Emotional intelligence is something that is often underestimated, but is highly useful when the Army is people business. I can usually walk past a Soldier and see there is something wrong with them just by their demeaning.
Q. So far how has been you partnership with Italian military on base?
A. Great! The Italian Army has be very accepting and great to work alongside, especially while fighting COVID. My current job with the command team is deepening my appreciation of the importance of strong relationships and interoperability with our partners and allies.
Q. Is there anything else you wish to add?
A. I am so happy to have this experience in Italy for not only myself, but also my children. The historical heritage here is amazing, the people are wonderful, and the food has changed me forever. Grazie Italia!