Cal State Fullerton News and Information
  CSUF Home   |   About CSUF   |   Academics   |   Administration   |   Students   |   Future Students   |   Alumni   |   Visitors
  News:   Home  |   Archive  |   Calendar & Events   |   Arts  |   Titan Sports  |   Photo Gallery   |
From Bronze Star to Summa Cum Laude,
CSUF Grad Heading to UCLA Law School

Bronze Star recipient witnessed horrific scenes in Afghanistan, finds strength in her family and inspiration from Thurgood Marshall.

Story by Mimi Ko Cruz

June 15, 2006 :: No. 252

Thoughts of the horrific scenes she witnessed in Afghanistan raced through the mind of Staff Sgt. Jaclyn Blankenship as she stood at attention while receiving her Bronze Star Medal three years ago.

She was recalling the Afghan woman with an axe in her head, wielded there by her husband who suspected her of speaking with another man; the children whose limbs were blown off by landmines as they played in dirt fields; the faces of Afghan soldiers, despondent from decades of guerilla warfare; the American soldiers carrying away their dead comrades; and the putrid fumes of the burning flesh of Germans who were on a bus exploded by a suicide bomber.

The medal acknowledges Blankenship's "exceptionally meritorious service as a flight operations officer, operating under the most extreme of circumstances." But, it also is "emblematic of human suffering in its rawest, most visceral form," Blankenship said, adding that her experience instilled in her many ambitions. Among them: "helping Afghani women out of servile conditions, bringing infrastructure to Afghanistan in order to create jobs and maximize mine removal efforts."

After reading about the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice who championed civil rights causes, Blankenship said she realized that "through litigation and mediation, I could change the underlying structures that perpetuate the existence of human suffering: human rights violations, trade laws and foreign treaties."

Today, with her bachelor's degree in philosophy from Cal State Fullerton, Blankenship's ambitions resurface. The first in her family to receive a college degree, she graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and the Philosophy Department's highest graduating student honor — the Paul C. Hayner Award. In the fall, she will be attending UCLA Law School.

Blankenship, 27, joined the Army in 1996, after graduating from Troy High School in Fullerton. She did so because she wanted a college education without creating a financial hardship for her parents or incurring debt.

She served in the Army and National Guard for nearly nine years.

In her first year on active duty, Blankenship learned Hungarian and became a military intelligence officer, serving as a cryptologist and high-level courier for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In other words, she was a spy. She spent four years in that position, which took her to Bosnia, Kosovo, Hungary, Italy and Germany. For seven months in 2003, she was in Afghanistan, overseeing medical evacuations.

Until six months ago, she worked as an air traffic control station specialist at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield.

Throughout her military career and before then, when she worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken as a teenager, Blankenship would give a portion of her pay to her parents, who live in Yorba Linda.

Her mother, Charlene Blankenship, has been disabled for more than a decade because she suffers from neuropathy, a disease brought on by deterioration of the peripheral nerves in her arms and hands.

"I love my family," said Blankenship, who lives with her two younger sisters in Fullerton and visits her parents at least three times a week. "I'm one of those people who has an almost perfect little family unit. I knew my parents would have tried to pay for me to go to college but I just couldn't see that. That's why I went into the Army. It paid for my education."

With tears building up in her eyes on a recent day, her mother expressed her pride in her oldest child.

"Jaclyn is a dream achiever," Charlene Blankenship said. "She truly wants to make a difference and she knows how important education is and how much her dad and I struggle because we didn't have it. She expects of herself only the best and a lot of times, she makes it very hard on herself. We just support everything she does."

Her family is not her only support base. Cal State Fullerton faculty members also tout her accomplishments, determination and hard work.

"Jaclyn has learned the one lesson that our culture of instant gratification denies and that so many of her fellow students have yet to master: The path to success and happiness begins with discipline and fidelity," said Mitchell E. Avila, associate professor of philosophy and one of Blankenship's teachers. "What is most impressive about Jaclyn's personal character is her dedication and discipline. Certainly this has something to do with her military training, but I suspect that she was motivated and disciplined long before she entered the military."

In her letter of application to law school, Blankenship wrote: "As a 27-year-old veteran of two wars who has lived in six different countries and visited 12 others, I can offer a unique perspective to the study of law and international relations... I have led soldiers in war and peace, successfully creating a climate of communication among diverse backgrounds and fostering esprit de corps. I have overcome pervasive stereotypes about women in the military, advancing in rank above my predominantly male peers and earning one of the highest combat medals awarded."


Media Contacts:

Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs,  657-278-7586 or
Mitchell E. Avilla, Philosophy, 657-278-2272 or

« back to News Front

Jaclyn Blankenship
Jaclyn Blankenship

Related Stories
Commencement 2006 website
County supervisor and entrepreneur to yeynote 47th Annual Commencement
Special events launch Commencement season
Business leader and alumnus to be honored at 47th Commencement
From Bronze Star to Summa Cum Laude
Future entrepreneur first to graduate from specialized physics, business program
CSUF alumni honor top students, top achievers
Interest in learning for CLE honoree instilled at early age
Future doctor honored for outstanding community service
Father, daughter to graduate together from CSUF
Grad student heading to Chile as Fulbright Scholar
Seven Guardian Scholars to graduate with Class of 2006
Browse Archive
By Date
News Services
eNews Subscribe to eNews
XML Add RSS Headlines
Live Bookmarks Live Bookmarks
Go to... Top

Cal State Fullerton Produced by the Office of Public Affairs at California State University, Fullerton.
Contact the web administrator for comments and problems with the website.
California State University, Fullerton 2005. All Rights Reserved.