FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 22, 2022) -- Dr. Laurie Rush is easily identifiable around Fort Drum for the orange vest and tan boonie hat she often wears when conducting field work on the installation.
But as the Environmental Division’s Cultural Resources manager, she wears many hats – Army archaeologist, anthropologist, Native American Affairs liaison for the garrison commander, cultural property protection trainer for 10th Mountain Division (LI) units, guest lecturer and occasional tour guide at the Historic LeRay Mansion District and Lost Villages.
Rush also has shared her expertise numerous times around the world – as her travel log and passport can attest – having visited Iraq, Afghanistan, New Zealand, the Middle East and Africa.
Recently, Rush joined a contingent of subject-matter experts in Copan, Honduras, to conduct cultural heritage training and site assessments with the Honduran Army’s 120th Infantry Brigade. In addition to classroom discussions, they spent three days on field work and visited the Copan Ruinas, an Archaeological World Heritage Site known for its Mayan temples and sculptures.
“What I was there to do was to help educate Honduran soldiers about the value of the archaeology that is their mission to protect,” Rush said. “We started this program back in 2017-2018, meeting with Honduran representatives of their cultural community and the military. It was clear after our second meeting it was time to move the educational piece of the endeavor out of the classroom and into the field.”
Rush worked with Joint Task Force Bravo engineers, the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC) and the Institute of Anthropology and History during the weeklong training exercise, which was coordinated through U.S. Southern Command.
“One of the real golden moments for me was when I first met with the Honduran soldiers during the classroom exercise,” she said. “Their country is filled with archaeology, and I asked how many of them spent time around the ancient places. Maybe two out of a couple dozen soldiers raised their hands.”
Then she presented a slideshow of photos depicting various artifacts and what they look like covered by vegetation in jungle. The soldiers realized they had seen these before, but they never recognized the cultural significance.
“That was one of my first goals, to help them begin to see the ancient places in their landscape,” Rush said.
Later, she watched as the soldiers applied their knowledge assessing property damage at a museum in Copan.
“They really began to take the education and run with it,” Rush said. “It was very rewarding to see them already practicing everything we had talked about.”
While the training she provides military units is about protecting cultural objects and sites, Rush said that an occurrence she had in Honduras provided her with a lesson of her own.
“I was reminded that while I am teaching about different landscapes, I need to be much more aware while doing so,” she said. “One day, I came so close to stepping on this man’s watermelon patch because I was not paying close enough attention. I was looking up toward a monument and not down. And we had been walking through so many gates that I hadn’t even thought that we were entering a fenced-in place and I needed to watch where I stepped.”
It was somewhat ironic, she said, for a person whose instruction often centers on being cognizant and respectful of one’s surroundings to almost trample on a Honduran’s garden.
“It was a good reminder for me to pay attention to the things I teach and practice those skills,” Rush said. “And that’s something that I think will make me a better teacher, just remembering that I can always do better.”
Rush said that working with such an eclectic team also was a learning experience, especially the USACAPOC Soldiers who provided logistics and force protection support.
“I had an opportunity to learn so much about these courageous Soldiers and their mission,” she said. “They are working with non-governmental organizations and go out to all kinds of remote villages in Honduras, helping to establish water projects, housing, clinics and schools. They have this enormous ongoing humanitarian mission, and they are doing it so well. The fact they were taking a week out of their busy schedule to assist us was really appreciated.”
Rush said that she tried to include the civil affairs Soldiers into the field training so they could benefit from some of it.
“I’ve found working with Soldiers to be rewarding, all over the world,” she said. “As soon as you show them that connection between applying this (cultural heritage) knowledge and the increased potential for a successful mission, they immediately get it.”