It was on the 45-minute bus ride to and from school in Redwood Falls that Jp Lawrence began to mold his future career.

"My school started offering free copies of the Star Tribune, and I tore into those, hungry to learn more about the world," said Lawrence, who joined the Star Tribune last week in a new position covering southwest Minnesota. He calls it a "childhood dream come true."

After high school, Lawrence joined the Minnesota National Guard and deployed to Iraq, where he served for nine months. He used his GI Bill money to attend Bard College, where he majored in anthropology, then Columbia University, where he got his master's in journalism. He has reported for the Albany Times Union in New York and the San Antonio Express News in Texas.

After covering Afghanistan from Kabul for Stars and Stripes and covering the U.S. military in the Middle East from Germany, Lawrence is excited to be back in America. "I think everyone should get a chance to cover their hometown," he said. Read on to get to know him a bit better.

Why journalism?

Like a lot of reporters, I was one of those kids who was reading all the time. I grew up in the era before smart phones. We didn't have many channels on TV and my parents weren't big fans of video games. So I was restless and reading anything I could get my hands on: books from trips to the library, the backs of cereal boxes, labels on shampoo bottles. Peak reading times were during the 45-minute school bus rides each morning and afternoon. My school started offering free copies of the Star Tribune, and I tore into those, hungry to learn more about the world. Now that I'm grown up, every day that I get to report is another chance to be as curious as that kid reading on the school bus.

Favorite story so far in your career?

The stories that I think about the most are the ones where normal people are trying to make do in the face of cruel bureaucratic systems.

I reported for three and a half years in Afghanistan as a foreign correspondent, based in an apartment in downtown Kabul. The U.S. military was trying to hide how badly the war against the Taliban was going. But we were able to talk to Afghans outside the military bases, drive around the country and see what was happening beyond the overly-rosy assessments by the U.S. government.

One day, we found out about an Afghan pilot who was promised refuge by the U.S. government, only for it all to go awry at the last second. The pilot was receiving a lot of Taliban death threats due to his status as a feared killer from the skies. But the day he was supposed to leave, the U.S. military reversed its endorsement, saying later that with so many military personnel under threat, letting this pilot seek refuge could gut the Afghan security forces. The pilot was forced to go into hiding. We were able to break the story of this promise gone haywire, and we kept talking about it until the U.S. government eventually allowed the pilot to leave Afghanistan with his family. I'm glad he was able to make it out just months before the country collapsed and fell to the Taliban in 2021. I don't know how badly things would have turned out had the story remained a secret and he had been stuck in Afghanistan.

It's stories like this that remind me it's important to dig into the truth and tell people what's really happening.

How deep do you think the division is between the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota?

I've been overseas for six years now. Since I've been back, I've heard people talk about how people in the Twin Cities don't know much about greater Minnesota or think it's just a bunch of rocks and cows out here.

But I know so many people in southwestern Minnesota who are doing incredible things, who are striving to make their communities a better place or are trying to build their version of the American dream out here.

I know a lot of newspapers and radio stations in southwest Minnesota are struggling, as they are everywhere. But people tell me they still want to know what's going on in their communities, still want someone to call balls and strikes and tell it how it really is.

I hope the Star Tribune's expansion into greater Minnesota can help inform people throughout the state, and I want to be of service to the area where I grew up.

Why Jp, with a lowercase p and no periods?

I just think it looks neat. That's really the only reason, actually.

What else should we know about you?

I became a sports fan in 2003, the same year that Nate Poole ruined the Vikings' season with a last-minute heartbreak catch. So that was a good introduction to Minnesota sports.