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Alumna’s latest mission: gather key intel for military in Afghanistan

For nine months last year, Army 1st Lt. Lauren Mitchell spent her workdays flying through the mountains of Afghanistan, using the latest surveillance tools to pinpoint the enemy so that a Joint Special Operations Task Force could take them out.

“We might call in a kinetic strike (bombs) or a raid on the ground,” she says. “Sometimes the target was an individual in a compound, other times they were on a motorcycle or out in the open. My job was to use geo-location to establish the precise location of the target.”

As an intelligence officer assigned to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, Mitchell’s job was to provide the information needed to ensure that bombings and ground attacks were conducted with the precision needed to avoid unnecessary casualties.

“It’s a really cool feeling to know that you’re willing to give everything you have to defend your freedoms.”

Lauren Mitchell SSH'14, MS'15

When she wasn’t flying, she served as part of the intelligence gathering operation in the Joint Operations Center on the Bagram military base, which is where she will be assigned full time when she begins her second tour at the end of March.

To a civilian, a second deployment so quick on the heels of the first might seem like a hardship. But to Mitchell, it’s an opportunity.

“I know this sounds like a stock answer, but it’s a really cool feeling to know that you’re making a difference—that you’re willing to give everything you have to defend your freedoms,” she says. “I’m willing to miss holidays and birthdays so that my family and friends can enjoy them over here. Our overall goal in Afghanistan is to prevent terrorist activities in America.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Family tradition

Mitchell, SSH’14,MS’15, grew up in a military family in southern New Hampshire. One grandfather served in the Navy during WWII and while the other was in the infantry and landed in Normandy two days after D-Day. Her father made a career in the Navy.

That tradition takes on a tangible quality in the Bible that Mitchell will bring with her to Afghanistan—a copy of the New Testament that her great grandfather carried with him during WWI, and was passed on to her great uncle who was killed during WWII, then her father, and now her.

“Family tradition was part of my decision to join the military, but not the biggest reason,” says Mitchell. “If fact, I didn’t joint ROTC until my sophomore year.

As a criminal justice major, Mitchell planned to go into federal law enforcement. Being in the military would give her a leg up when it came time to apply for jobs, and as an intelligence officer, she would already have security clearance, which would make her even more attractive.

Meanwhile, the ROTC program paid for two years of college, one undergraduate and her fifth-year master’s degree in homeland security.

Like many students, she chose Northeastern because of the co-op program, which she used to land internships with the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the U.S Marshals Service, both in Boston. The Marshals Service was particularly interesting because she was there when federal officers captured the notorious gangster Whitey Bulger, who had been the subject of two of her college papers.

“I got to sit in on the Bulger trial and see him in his cell, which as a criminal justice major, was an incredible opportunity,” she says.

“My days were class, study, work, and the military, but I still had time to have a great group of friends.”

Lauren Mitchell SSH'14, MS'15

There were sacrifices, of course—ROTC during the week and Army Reserves one weekend each month. As if that wasn’t enough, she was also working three part-time jobs to help pay for school.

“My days were class, study, work, and the military,” she says. “It was difficult at times because my Reserves training always seemed to fall on the weekend when all my friends were getting together or the weekend before finals. But I still had time to have a great group of friends.”

When she finished her master’s degree, she attended a four-month training program in Army intelligence at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, which prepared her for the beginning of her intelligence career.

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Second deployment

Mitchell is looking forward to her upcoming deployment.

“As part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan I get to meet amazing people from all branches of the service,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to read the reports at the end of the day and see that you’re making a difference.”

This time, Mitchell will be assigned to the Joint Operations Command Center in Bagram, where her job will be to coordinate intelligence reports from both human and electronic sources and create targeting packages, which her superiors will use to execute missions.

As ready as she is another tour, she’s glad this one will only be six months long.

“Nine months is tough,” she says. “By the time you’re halfway through, you’re really exhausted from the 14- and 16-hour days and ready to go home. Sometimes, the only way you know the day of the week is by what they’re serving at the dining hall.”