Laurie Lans left her career as an executive producer for a nationally syndicated radio show for the United States Navy. She served in Iraq and other combat zones. (Alex Keown / Naperville Sun)
Wherever Laurie Lans goes, she makes a point of trying to meet other Jews.
That's what she does when she goes to a grocery store, a new city or a war zone. In 2001, just weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Lans left her career as an executive producer for the nationally syndicated Dennis Prager radio show for the United States Navy. Within two years, Lans, like so many others, found herself thrust into a combat theater in Iraq. She served a tour and rotated out of Iraq, only to return again as a naval intelligence officer in 2005.
Whether she was in a combat zone or a peacetime location Lans wanted to create connections with others, particularly people of her own faith, be they reformed, orthodox or secular. During a talk before a crowd of about 40 people at the Chabad of Naperville on Sunday, Lans, now retired from the Navy, stressed the importance of building relationships.
That resonated with Sean Gadd, of Naperville. Gadd thought he would hear war stories told from a Jewish perspective. Instead he was reminded about the importance of meeting people and creating lasting relationships.
"It's not what I was expecting, but it's something that really struck home. It's something we should all be better at," Gadd said.
For nearly 90 minutes Lans shared stories of her adventures while on active duty. Some were joyous, such as meeting a man during a 2005 Yom Kippur service in Iraq who would later become her husband. While in Iraq she also spearheaded an effort to raise a giant menorah in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces for Hanukkah. During her quest to get the menorah built, Lans said she expected to run into opposition from various military commanders, but instead received tremendous support. Even civilian contractors pitched in to make sure the menorah was built in time for Hanukkah. Part of it was to boost morale and some of it was certainly a way to take pleasure in the fact that the Jewish holiday would be celebrated in the palace of Saddam Hussein.
Others were more strenuous and difficult, including a time she was forced to travel to Kuwait under new papers that omitted her Jewish faith. Lans said her colleagues arranged for her to have a new U.S. passport since her old one included multiple Israel stamps – something she said would have denied her entry. She also removed a necklace with a Jewish symbol that belonged to her mother. Lans was issued new dog tags that replaced notification of her Jewish faith with the initials NRP, which stands for no religious preference. Lans is proud of her Jewish heritage and that particular mission forced her to deny it for some time. She said that was something she could not do a second time.
Lans left the Navy to serve alongside her husband, a rabbi in the U.S. Army. With her husband, Moshe, she went to Afghanistan.
Lans told the crowd about a young man, about 18 years of age, who lost both of his legs to an improvised explosive device. The teen, who had lost a lot of blood, did not request to talk to his mother or make bargains for pain medicine. He begged Lans' husband to get him a Star of David so he could die while holding a symbol of his faith. Those types of symbols were difficult to come by in Afghanistan, but they were able to get a star for the teen. Fortunately Lans said he survived, now walking on two prosthetic legs and has become a father.
Sixteen years after terrorists killed more than 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks Lans told the group it's important for the nation to hold onto God and each other – and to make new connections.