KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Leslie Purser began her military career in the US Army as a second lieutenant right out of ROTC in 1980. Thirty-seven years later she retired as a major general.
The Perfume Palace was once a favorite home of Iraq President Saddam Hussein. For retired Major General Leslie Purser, it’s where she was deployed as a Colonel in 2005 when assigned to the Multi-National Force Intelligence operations of Iraq. Six fellow soldiers died, it was her first experience in a combat zone. She thinks of those men in the unit often.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Purser was one of six children and the only girl. Her dad said he’d pay for her first year of college, she’d have to figure out the rest.
“I did have to stand up for myself, I was just like one of the guys. That’s probably part of the reason I went into the Army because I was comfortable around men. It was mostly men then because I had brothers,” said Purser.
Enrolled at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she found out through its ROTC program she could get a scholarship.
“Back then it was a four-year commitment. I thought I could do that for four years. So 37 years later, I retired,” said Purser.
In her career, first on active duty, then the reserves, the guard, and back on active duty, she rose from a 2nd Lieutenant to a Major General. Along the way, she raised a family. Her husband Joseph is a retired Army officer. Their two children both are Army Majors.
“In 2005, I went to Iraq on active duty, came back, resumed my civilian career then when the one-star list came out, the deal was it’s an active duty position. ‘Are you okay with that?’ And I spent pretty much the rest of my time on active duty,” said Purser.
However, as a woman officer in the early 1980s, it wasn’t always easygoing.
“I wanted to get into the thick of Intelligence as a Lieutenant. The G2 of the Division at the time said, no women are a problem, I don’t want them on my staff because they’re a problem when we go to the field. We were in the field a lot,” said Purser.
As a proven leader, Purser shared her advice for young women who want to make the Army a career.
“I say don’t let anybody tell you no because when people told me no, it made me try harder,” said Purser.
When she speaks to groups, Purser often quotes Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Army’s top General in WWII, and later U.S. president.
“Leadership is getting soldiers to do what you want them to do because they want to do it. That is servant leadership,” said Purser.
She has been that and more: a leader, a trainer, a motivator and a mentor to those coming up in the ranks.
“That’s what I do now. I support veterans and cadets and anybody that has the military in their heart because I think it’s a fabulous opportunity,” said Purser.
Purser has served her country honorably and encourages others as well.