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SD native talks of 'colorful' life with US Army Corps

Suzanne Fournier, formerly of Bridgewater, hands out school supplies, toys and candy to children in a community near Al Diwaniyah, Iraq. Fournier volunteered for an eight-month deployment to Iraq in 2005, traveling to nine of 18 provinces to help with communication during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Submitted photo)

BRIDGEWATER, S.D.—Suzanne Fournier is always looking for her next adventure.

The Bridgewater native considers her life colorful, as her career has taken her all over the world — and she credits her hometown for much of her success.

Fournier, 72, is now retired and living in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Still full of energy, she decided to write a memoir. Her recently released book, titled "Life After Diapers," details her life before and after leaving her hometown in South Dakota.

The mother of seven and grandmother to 25 has led a full life. After graduating from Bridgewater High School in 1962, Fournier moved to Omaha, Nebraska, to attend college. She then met her husband, Gil, at the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha while serving as a secretary.

The two married and her husband's work took them to Norfolk, Nebraska. Their family continued to grow and so did the amount of moves. The Fourniers continued back and forth between Omaha and Norfolk for several years, until Gil's health took a turn for the worse.

Unable to work, that left Fournier, who was 40 at the time, to support the family. Luckily, in 1989, she found a job as a clerk at the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Nebraska.

"I left these seven children with a daddy who could hardly boil water," Fournier said with a laugh.

But the clerk job led to much more, and more than 15 years later she found herself as the director of communication and public affairs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C.

Always on the move

Before her job as director in D.C., Fournier moved from state to state for work.

From Nebraska, Fournier moved to Maine, West Virginia, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio. All of her positions dealt with overseeing communications, but it was her job in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that led to her trips overseas.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, Fournier volunteered to travel through Iraq for eight months, serving in the communications department. Using her communication skills — and the help of armored vehicles and up to nine bodyguards — she navigated southern Iraq and parts of Afghanistan overseeing construction sites of hospitals, clinics, schools and power plants. Fournier's job was to provide communication for the sites, including being a media escort, writing press releases and authoring a blog.

"I just saw it as a very unique opportunity to give something back," Fournier said. "That was my primary motive in going over, and they really did need people like me. I was in a unique position to do this, and it was a great adventure."

By April 2006, she returned to the United States, and had a job as the director of communication and public affairs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waiting for her in D.C.

"I came out of the desert in Iraq to go to the jungle of D.C.," she said.

At that time, Hurricane Katrina had just wreaked havoc on New Orleans. And shortly after moving her to D.C., Fournier often traveled to Louisiana helping with communications.

Eventually, during her three years as director, she traveled to Iraq again, but this time to Baghdad and also Afghanistan. With more than 35,000 employees of the Army Corps of Engineers in 100 countries and 50 U.S. states, Fournier had her hands full.

Encouraging others to not 'sit still'

In late 2009, her husband's health became increasingly worse, Fournier said, and since she was at the retiring age, she decided to end her long career in civil service, settling down in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with Gil.

Fournier makes her way back to Bridgewater as often as she can. It's from this "little town in South Dakota" that she learned her work ethic, adding that she and her brother at a young age held daily paper routes each morning.

"I think that work ethic that you get in small town South Dakota," Fournier said. " ... Those are the kinds of values you learn in small town America. It helped me throughout my career."

And with the release of her book, which is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Fournier hopes others are inspired.

"In my 20's, I had babies. When I turned 40, I went back to work and when I was 60, I volunteered to go to Iraq," she said. "My life is a little more colorful than some people's, but the idea behind it is don't sit still. Whatever age you are, pursue your dreams."