Jacqua Lynn Wells-Thorpe was born on August 27, 1965 to Jackie R. Sr. and Lucille (Bryant) Wells of Rock Island, Illinois. She attended Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, graduating in 1983. A year later, Wells-Thorpe enlisted with the United States Army. Not much is recorded of Wells’ military service, aside from the fact that she was stationed at Fort Kobbe in Panama as a forklift and crane operator during the Gulf War period. From this, some extrapolations can be made to get a picture of what Wells-Thorpe may have accomplished during her service.
As a forklift and crane operator for the US Army, Wells-Thorpe was involved in military and civilian construction projects around Central America. In addition to improvement of fortifications and other necessary military structures, the soldiers stationed at Fort Kobbe were involved in local building projects for diplomatic and training purposes. One such project during Wells-Thorpe’s years of service was “Puente de La Paz”, a project that saw the Costa Rican government sponsor $500,000 for the Army to construct infrastructure throughout Costa Rica: “About 150 U.S. Army engineers from the 536th Engineer Battalion from Fort Kobbe in Panama moved in with bulldozers, dump trucks, hammers, and nails for six weeks of widening roads, building bridges, and renovating schools and civic centers.” The maintenance and construction of military structures is undoubtedly a vital and necessary function of Wells-Thorpe and other heavy equipment operators. The diplomatic and humanitarian practice of building infrastructure in foreign countries is perhaps just as important in the long run for its role in the quality-of-life improvement of America’s neighbors, and the stability of the world.
Jacqua Wells-Thorpe also may have been a participant in the Persian Gulf conflict, given her discharge from the Army about a month after the war’s end. In 1990, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of neighboring Kuwait. In response, the United States led a coalition of nations to expel the Iraqi forces from Iraq. This military undertaking required a vast amount of construction for the housing, sanitation, and transportation needs of the coalition. Despite the colossal amount of labor and expertise required of the Army’s engineers, they managed to successfully meet the coalition’s needs:
In support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Corps ultimately supported just under $300 million of construction on base camps, airfields, wash racks, sunshades, and equipment rental. Indeed, simply to support the basic needs of the troops the Corps spent roughly $40 million on contracts and equipment primarily for latrines and washstands. It also executed almost $100 million in leasing contracts during the military operation. Of the total funds expended, the majority came from Saudi Arabia under host-nation support agreements, and a sizeable portion of the balance from the Gulf Peace Fund on behalf of the Japanese government. In spite of the trying conditions, the Corps successfully fulfilled its mission.
It is possible that Wells-Thorpe was one of the many soldiers set to work on this monolithic project. As indicated by the figures, the accomplishment of the necessary building by the Army’s equipment operators and engineers was herculean, and speaks to the skill and tenacity of those involved.
After Wells-Thorpe’s discharge from the Army in 1991, she returned home to the Quad Cities, where she lived out the remainder of her life. She graduated from Scott Community College in 1995, earning an associate degree in secretarial science. She was a member of the K-9 University Dog Obedience School in Moline and practiced martial arts at Master Chung Kim’s Black Belt Academy in Bettendorf. She tragically passed away at the age of 36 on September 30, 2001. She was survived by her son John, as well as her brother, sister-in-law, niece, and parents. She leaves behind a legacy of humanitarianism and tenacity with her service as an Army heavy equipment operator.