BAGHDAD, Iraq — From the moment 1st Lt. Jessica Donckers arrived at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, tradition predicted her career would be marked by combat deployments.

According to cadet lore, if it rains on the Acceptance Day parade at the beginning of a cadet’s schooling, or on graduation day, that class will go to war, Donckers said.

“We actually take it quite seriously,” she said.

For the West Point Class of 2001, Acceptance Day dawned sunny and cloudless, “a beautiful day,” Donckers recalled.

By the time a parade assembled, however, “we had a freak storm — it just came out of nowhere.” The winds were so wild that the students were told to take cover under the parade ground bleachers.

From that moment on, “it rained on every significant event” of her student life, Donckers said, ending with graduation.

Even in gritty Iraq, Donckers never removes her West Point ring, which features a lightening bolt on the class crest to commemorate the storms and the shadow of wars to come.

Donckers said she chose her career field, military police, “because it is the one branch where I could go out and do the most.”

When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, Donckers was at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., doing a route reconnaissance as part of her MP training.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she said.

After her initial shock, however, another thought set in.

“I knew we were going to be deployed,” she said. “I just knew in my gut this was it.”

Although she admits that her pending yearlong deployment “is hard on everyone,” Donckers said she wouldn’t trade her Iraq deployment for the world.

“I love it,” she said. “The Iraqis know we care. They are awesome people. They just have a different lifestyle, and they had a rough go of it for a while.”

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