In this, the final segment of our Veterans in Voice Over special, we feature Linsay Rousseau, who served in the Iraq War, OIF IV. 2005-2006 as a public affairs sergeant for the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), working as a journalist, photographer and videographer. She spent a year in the northern Iraq province of Kirkuk documenting and reporting on combat and humanitarian operations.
Linsay co-founded the Appeal for Redress during her time in the Army to educate service members on their rights and called for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. The Appeal received the 2007 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, presented by the Institute for Policy Studies.
Join VOX Daily today to hear Linsay Rousseau‘s experiences in the Army and how she became a voice actor after her service ended.
Why did you enlist in the Army?
Always a difficult question to answer. I was quite the student activist as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, president of the study body my senior year, a sociology and anthropology major. I’d participated in dozens of protests throughout the country, lead campaigns on campus for a variety of issues. I was in college during 911 and became a staunch opponent of the war. After graduating, I did work on Ralph Nader’s presidential election campaign, worked for Amnesty International, but still couldn’t find my path.
I’ve always been the type of person to fully immerse myself in life. Be it living with an indigenous tribe in Venezuela or a group of soldiers in Iraq. I went into the Army being against the war, and came out of it even more so and for so many more reasons. It’s an experience that has shaped my life and one I wouldn’t take but, but also one I wouldn’t do again.
I was a 46R, Public Affairs Specialist, Broadcast Journalist. I was trained to be a radio DJ and TV reporter, like “Good Morning Vietnam.” Then the Army restructured and I was sent to a newly created Brigade Combat Team. I was one of four people in my public affairs office. I produced TV and radio stories for American Forces Network (AFN), sent b-role footage to national and international broadcast news agencies, took pictures, wrote press releases, articles that were published in national and international media, conducted satellite interviews, dealt with journalists who visited our area, took lots of pictures and shot lots of video, created moral videos for my unit, memorial videos for the soldiers who died in my unit.
Why did you choose that branch of the military?
It allowed me to choose my profession as a public affairs specialist, broadcast journalist, photographer and videographer. There are limited spaces available for this job in the military and it has substantial pre-requisite experience/skills required. This is a job that each branch of the military has and the Army had an opening. During my advanced journalism training, I trained with members from each branch of the military.
Tell me about your boot camp/training experience. How did you get through it?
Boot Camp wasn’t all that difficult for me. I was older when I joined the Army (23) and had already been through many strenuous events in my life. I had graduated from college, traveled to the developing world on several occasions and had the maturity to deal with the physical and mental stresses of boot camp. I was quickly assigned as the soldier leader of my class and was awarded the “Soldier Leader of the Cycle” for my graduating class at Boot Camp.
Do you recall your first days in service? What was it like?
My first day at my assigned unit (following Boot Camp and my advanced journalism training) was a bit surreal. I was the first woman assigned to a newly created Brigade Combat Team, made up predominantly of infantry soldiers, most of whom had just returned from the initial invasion deployment to Iraq. The head sergeant (1st Sargent) wasn’t sure how to handle female soldiers (he was in the infantry) and said he didn’t want me living in the barracks and that I needed to live off base (unusual for someone new to the military).
Luckily, the officer in charge of my public affairs office of four, was a real advocate for me. I jump head first into my job and on my first day, was sent out to document an infantry training exercise that involved “clearing” houses. The male soldiers were very resistant to me at first, being a woman and having a video camera in my hand (they had bad experiences with journalists during their deployment).
But after several months, they became completely comfortable with me. I made it clear I knew what I was doing, could hold my own weight and wasn’t going to be pushed around. Eventually, I was integrated into their training: following behind with my camera as they cleared houses, deployed off helicopters and everything in between.
Do you remember arriving in Iraq? What was it like?
I lost all sense of time in those first few days. I left Ft. Campbell, KY on a commercial flight for 15 hours. Landed in Kuwait, got on a C130 airplane for several hours. Landed in Iraq. Got on a Chinook helicopter (C17) for another few hours and finally arrived at FOB Warrior in Kirkuk, my home base for the next year. I remember seeing camels for the first time in those hours.
What is your most memorable experiences as a broadcast journalist?
It’s hard to narrow it down. I experienced so much. From joy, to sadness and everything in between. I accompanied infantry soldiers on combat missions, Special Forces soldiers on air assault raids, documented the rebuilding of orphanages and hospitals, worked with Iraqi media on PSA’s, met the president of Kurdistan, drank a lot of chi.
I spent hours walking down dirt roads with 75lbs of in full body armour – an M4 rifle, video camera, still camera, extra tapes, batteries and ammo strapped to me. I remember one of the infantry sergeants turning to me during on one such walk and saying that I carried more weight than his soldiers. In total, about 70lbs.
I created memorial videos for each of the soldiers killed in my unit that I sent home to their families. I received a letter from one of the soldier’s mothers thanking me for showing her how much people cared for her son. He had gone straight from Basic Training to Iraq.
What was your rank? Were you awarded any medals or citations?
Sergeant, E-5. Yes. Several citations for exceptional work done in my job. Being engaged in combat. Many other military and deployment awards.
How did you stay in touch with your family?
Predominantly through email. My job afforded me daily internet access as well as access to a phone when necessary.
Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?
I spent about a month with a Special Forces group that was working with Iraqi special forces. I documented their training and combat missions. But during the off time, we sat around a tent listening to music and watching movies while one of the Iraqi’s threaded the other soldiers’ mustaches and sideburns. I had been wondering why these Special Forces soldiers had such immaculate facial hair. They joked that they wanted to bring him back to the United States to open a salon near them.
I was on patrol with EOD soldiers (explosive ordinance disposal) in a big mine-resistant armored vehicle called a Buffalo. We’re on patrol looking for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and a bunch of us had to go to the bathroom. So we stopped in the middle of the road and took turns going behind the massive tires to go to the bathroom. I remember thinking how normal it was. Just like being in a long car ride and pulling over on the side of the road.
What were some of the pranks that you or others would pull?
I was back from my deployment and had to videotape and take photos of the big change of command ceremony, where the current general transferred leadership of the unit to a new general. Lots of very high ranking important people there. Because I was just one person, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend (we’re still together seven years later). He was in the infantry but had gotten out several months prior (we met after he had gotten out). I taught him how to use my video camera while I went around taking pictures.
As I mentioned earlier, my nickname was “Camera Chick” and I had a name-tape made for me as a joke that said that. Unbeknownst to me, the previous night by boyfriend had been putting my uniform together for the next day’s ceremony and had put the “Camera Chick” name-tape on my uniform instead of my last name. I went through the entire ceremony, shaking hands with generals and politicians, with a name tape that said “Camera Chick.” I don’t know if any of them noticed, but I was mortified after the fact when I realized it. We laugh about it now.
What was it like being a woman in the Army?
It was interesting for the first few months as the male soldiers in my unit got used to seeing a woman around. For many of the infantry, it was the first time they’d ever interacted with a female in the military. I was one woman with a camera in a unit of about 4,000 people. I wasn’t hard to miss and was nicknamed “Camera Chick.” But I made it clear right away that I could pull my own weight (literally, since I carried more weight than any other soldier in my unit) and wasn’t a liability. Eventually it became a non-issue. We lived side-by-side.
Do you recall the day your service ended? Where were you?
September 2007. I was still with my unit at Ft. Campbell (living in Clarksville, TN). I sent an email to all those I knew with the header “Finally Free.” Seriously, I just searched my email and found it.
What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
Slept. Then woke up and did nothing. Then slept some more. Started calling my boyfriend by his first name and not his last and vice-versa.
Since I’d been a journalist in the military, I decided that I would pursue a masters degree in journalism. I spent the next months studying for the GREs and applying to graduate journalism programs. I also co-founded the “Appeal for Redress,” an organization that worked to assist service members in understanding the rights and helping them speak out against the war. I traveled throughout the country giving talks on the matter.
Did you join a veteran’s organization?
I was a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Student Veterans of American, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign War, Swords to Plowshares.
What challenges did you face after returning to the U.S.?
It took a bit of adjusting. It was hard driving at first, being in large groups of people. And 4th of July fireworks still make me jump. I had a hard time making friends as I felt I had very little in common with my fellow students at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
Did being in the Army change your overall perspective on life? How?
It has given me a perspective of the world that not many people see or understand. My undergraduate studies were in sociology and anthropology and I saw the military and my time in Iraq almost as educational experiences. It was fascinating learning about other cultures.
I might not have agreed with the war I fought in, but became a part of a community. I met people who I never would have otherwise. Saw a part of the world most won’t. While I was in the Army, we didn’t care if you were male, female, black, white, gay, straight, we just cared that you had our back. My reasons for opposing the war became even more paramount, but now included aspects that only a veteran could know about.
How were you first introduced to the world of voice acting?
I had been involved in theater actor and singer for much of my life. After nearly four years in the Army, two years of graduate school and a journalism career that was consuming my life, I realized I wasn’t happy. If I was going to work that hard for very little payoff, I was going to return to my passion, acting and singing.
Voice-over work was something I’d always wanted to do but never knew how to get started. I am an avid gamer and have a passion for character work. I eventually became a member of a performance group with a woman whose husband was a sound developer for video games. His company goes through San Francisco based talent agency, Stars, for their voice-over casting and put me in direct contact with an agent there. He also helped me record my demos.
The agency liked my stuff and signed me. I also began taking classes at VoiceTrax, SF. A fabulous voice-over training school owned by Samantha Paris.
Why did you decide that a voice-over career would be right for you after your service ended?
I have been down may career paths in my life and nothing felt exactly right until I found voice-over acting. I still love the theater. But my military service left me with some emotional and physical scars that made traditional 9-5 difficult. Voice-over work afforded me the flexibility to work my own schedule, be artistically creative and finally feel like I’m on the right path.
How has the experience of serving your country helped you in your career?
It has been very helpful in developing soldier characters in video games. It is another tool in my tool box. Every experience you have in life fuels your acting. My time in the military gave me yet another experience to draw upon. An authoritative tone, when needed, comes easy to me. While I’d already been an actor, having been in the military and in a combat zone, I am able to draw upon emotions and memories in my work that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Do you specialize in a specific area of voice-over? Why?
Character voices. Video games and animation. My theater background has provided me with the acting and singing training and experience to develop characters, work with accents, manipulate my voice to create different sounds.
What advice would you give to up-and-comers considering a career in voice-over?
Keep plugging away. It doesn’t happen quickly but you will get there (I tell myself this everyday). Find a “day job” that affords you flexibility so you can really focus on your craft. I substitute teach and do transcription work as well as teach singing lessons to pay the bills for now. Find a good training program or teacher and seek out people who can provide honest feedback and constructive criticism of your work. If you don’t have a background in acting, look at taking some acting classes and improv classes. There is always more to learn.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
It’s a really hard day for me, because November marks the first month when one of the soldier’s in my unit died. From November to February we lost 10 people in Iraq. It’s a very private day for me and my partner. Veterans all experience grief differently. Some like parades and being around other people. For us, it’s being at home with each other and remembering those we lost and those we still have in our lives.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks to my time in the service, I have free medical care for life and don’t have student debt to pay off.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Linsay.
I would like to thank all of the Veterans who shared their stories with me and left comments on our social networks. In solidarity, we appreciate all that you did and all that you sacrificed to help keep this world a safer place.
All the best,
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