Major Jasmine Walker Motupalli Reveals Historically-Influenced Path: Iraq and Afghanistan Inspired by Ida B. Wells' WWI Fight
*As a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, where I served as an intelligence officer, I often think about how different my life might have been had I lived in a different period of history. A quick look at most American wars tells me that I would have never been an officer. I would have never been on the front line. But I do know that I would have done whatever I could to fight the fight. As a black woman during World War I, perhaps I might have been supporting the war effort at home by working in factory jobs vacated by men. Perhaps I would have chosen to prove my patriotism by serving as a nurse for the segregated black units in the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
But, in the face of inequality, I tend to be a bit rebellious and, even in 1914-1918, I’m pretty sure I would have tried to break the ceiling even further. During this time, I would have followed one of my heroes, Ida B. Wells, journalist, suffragist, editor, and activist. She fought for voting rights and equal treatment for women who looked like me. During WWI, she sold Liberty Bonds and distributed care packages to black soldiers. But her fight didn’t stop there. She worked to defend black men falsely accused of crimes throughout the country. Following the Houston Race Riot of 1917, she fiercely protested the hanging of 13 black soldiers hung by a military court without recourse to appeal or review by the president.
I have my father to thank for everything. He was both a feminist and a football star. He said that whatever era I was born into, I should never allow the color of my skin or my gender to dictate my path. He was the first to encourage my obstinate character. He said that I would become what I wanted, not despite, but thanks to the power of who I am—an African American, a woman, a human, a fighter, a leader, and a writer.
Here is an extract from my in-progress memoir about my time as an undergraduate at West Point, as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, and my path to become a Major and a West Point professor. As you read these, imagine WWI. During this time, my current career and military contribution would have never been possible. All the same, African American women like Ida B. Wells made a difference and fought like soldiers. My debt is to women like her.
This excerpt comes from the chapter called “The Worst Day,” the day a bounty was put on my head in Afghanistan as the only female Company Commander in my Brigade Combat Team and one of my soldiers had almost died after severe battle wounds. Everyone was down and I had to boost morale to keep them going. One of the lieutenants wanted us to pull out. Here’s my speech (I’ve toned down the language a bit for a PG audience):
From the "The Worst Day"
I promise, this is the only time that I’ve given a movie-like speech in my entire 30+ years of life. I also promise that I hated every minute of this speech. In retrospect, I feel like everyone should get one in his or her lifetime.
I started. “Your platoon is looking to you right now for the lead on how to behave. You can’t be doing this. WE don’t fall apart.” I pointed back and forth between my command and this lieutenant.
The lieutenant tried to speak again but I cut him off. I wasn’t done with the “epic” speech I was scared to give, but which I had also practiced in my head, just in case I had this situation arise.
“If you want to fall apart, you do it with me. You do it here and now. Then you take it like a man and you go in front of your platoon with me. All together…You think this is the last time something like this is going to happen? It’s not…But you know what? We’re STILL going to make sure our equipment is mission ready and we’re STILL going to do our missions. The Afghans are soldiers. WE are soldiers. We will all complain and moan—all of us. But once we’re told to do it and drive on, that’s what WE do. The same as I’m telling you to drive on right now. WE… DON’T… FALL… APART.” I finished…
I have never hated myself more than I did in that moment. This lieutenant was a scared 22-year-old kid who had just had the worst day of his life. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to hug all of them. I wanted to cry and mourn and be a human being. What I wanted didn’t matter. We had to get through a year of this and we wouldn’t make it if we fell apart after every fire fight. I would do what had to be done, say what had to be said, to get my company through this successfully. I would fight. I would fight against this enemy. I would fight for my Soldiers. I would fight for their lives and their souls, even at the expense of my own.
Over the next year, there would be hundreds more patrols within Pul-e-Alam District in Afghanistan, dozens more fire fights with Taliban and Haqqani cells, some that I would be involved in and others that I wouldn’t, and even a few more bounties placed on my head by Christmas. But the truth remained; nothing would leave me more shaken, than when one of my Soldiers came in wounded. I realized very quickly that I didn’t care about my own safety at all.
MAJ Jasmine Motupalli is a native of Houston, Texas. In 2002, she attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she was a Distinguished Graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Operations Research.
From 2007 to 2010, MAJ Motupalli was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas in the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, deploying to Mosul, Iraq from 2007-2009. Upon redeployment from Iraq in 2009, MAJ Motupalli assumed duties as the Intelligence Officer and Assistant Operations Officer (S2/AS3) for the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment Support Squadron.
In July 2011, MAJ Motupalli took Command of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division and deployed to Afghanistan, where her Company served as the Battle Space Owner for Pul-e-Alam District, Logar Province. Following redeployment from Afghanistan, MAJ Motupalli was reclassified into the Operations Research and Systems Analysis Functional Area.
At the conclusion of her company command in 2012, MAJ Motupalli was selected as one of the 13 Active Duty recipients of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. The MacArthur award is symbolic of the most outstanding Company Grade Army Officers’ leadership performance for a given year. In 2013, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Atlanta Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) for her volunteer service in support of veterans. In 2014, the Georgia Department of the Military Order of the Purple Heart recognized MAJ Motupalli’s volunteer service with the John M. King Award for outstanding service to her community, fellow citizens, and veterans.
In 2016, her collaborative work on pre-empting and preventing homelessness among transitioning veterans earned recognition at the Kansas Capitol Graduate Research Summit.
MAJ Motupalli is a graduate of the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course, Military Intelligence Captain’s Career Course (Honor Graduate), Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Manager’s Course, Counter Explosives and Hazards Planner’s Course, and the Sensitive Compartmented Information Special Security Officer Course.
Her awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal (2 OLC), Army Achievement Medal, Iraq and Afghanistan Campaign Medals, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, Combat Action Badge, and the Meritorious Unit Citation. In 2014, MAJ Motupalli graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Master of Science in Operations Research. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the West Point Department of Systems Engineering, working as an analyst in the Operations Research Center. She resides in Rockland County, NY with her husband, Venkat, and their three monster dogs. In her spare time, she works on her memoir.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.