|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
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
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."
Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs, 657-278-7586 or email@example.com
Mitchell E. Avilla, Philosophy, 657-278-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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