Her dad wanted her to be a lawyer. Her mom saw a future doctor. But when Velvet Conklin was only six years old, she informed her parents she had made her own choice. She was going to join the Army.
“I wanted to drive big trucks, blow things up, save the world and be a hero,” said Velvet Conklin, recalling her childhood motivation for becoming a soldier.
She was also taken with the impression of her father in his own Army photograph – especially, the sharpness of his uniform and the flashy, cool “stuff” that adorned it. (Her mother had tried the Army, as well, but blew out a knee in basic training and was medically discharged.)
Conklin never wavered in her aspirations. In September 2013, she celebrated the seventh anniversary of her enlistment in the Army.
Now 26, she was promoted to sergeant this year, and recently reenlisted for another eight years.
In addition to participating in active monthly drills and regular summer and emergency training and being on call for civil emergency-relief efforts, Conklin is a full-time student at Glendale Community College.
“I’ve gone to several colleges,” she said, “and when I started, ROTC was the only class I liked.”
Her higher education has spanned a university in Pennsylvania, her home state; a stint at a technical institute, where she trained to work on cars just prior to her deployment; taking classes at Cochise Community College when she returned from deployment; going to Estrella Mountain Community College, and finally, landing at GCC.
“I probably wouldn’t have come back to college if not for Veterans Services at GCC,” said Conklin. She cited the friendliness of staff members there who have helped her with everything from filing paperwork to questions about the computer.
“The Army is my family, and they have been since the day I joined,” said Conklin, who views it as a way of life. “There will always be a bond, an unspoken mutual understanding, with those people I deployed with,” she said.
She described that bond as going beyond friendships you make in the classroom or on the sports field. “You spend every second with them, and you depend on them to get you home alive,” she said. “That’s a lot of trust.”
Conklin said she has learned a lot of leadership skills in the Army, among them: lead by example; put the welfare of your soldiers ahead of yourself; maintain physical and mental fitness; pay attention to detail; promote teamwork.
Her Army career has helped her identify her own competencies, has challenged her to push outside of her comfort zone and has instilled confidence through meeting challenges successfully.
Majoring in nutrition at GCC, she plans to transfer to ASU in fall 2015 for a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree, and finally, professional certification as a registered dietician.
She sees food as medicine and would like eventually to be in a position to help her fellow service members – for instance, those recovering from amputations or burns at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – recover faster through healthful diets.
Conklin encourages others, both women and men, to consider a career in the military, saying the benefits – leadership training, secure income, educational opportunities and a range of career opportunities – outweigh the challenges.
Even so, she says, more than all of that, it’s a calling. “You have to have a sense of selfless service and pride; you have to want to be there,” she said.
Standing tall in her new Army dress uniform, Conklin exudes competence and confidence in her choice, a life of service to her country.