Sadie Conklin: She finds familiarity at the VA Medical Center
Portrait 2011 — Volume 3: Up-and-Comers
Sadie Conklin is a full-time college student with two full-time jobs: one at Grand Junction’s Veterans Administration Medical Center and the other as mother to 3-year-old Sofie.
“I don’t sleep, hardly,” Conklin said.
Juggling motherhood, public relations classes at Mesa State College and her position as customer relations program support assistant at the VA would be a difficult task for any 28-year-old. But Conklin handles it with a smile and a can-do attitude she learned in the Navy.
Conklin joined the Navy after graduating high school and stayed in for four years. She started her Navy career on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. Conklin said it remains the most beautiful place she’s ever seen, although it didn’t take long to see all of it.
“We only lived and did everything in one mile,” she said.
Conklin had a radio show on the island and ran the printing office there and in her next assignment on an amphibious assault ship. The ship picked up and dropped off Marines and spent some time docked near San Diego and the rest of the time docked near Kuwait while soldiers deployed to the then-new war in Iraq.
She also got the occasional reporting or photography assignment while in the Navy, which, along with work in the print shop, is what drew her to public relations after she finished her service in 2004. She returned to her hometown of Denver and spent a year in school at Red Rocks Community College and also worked as a bartender.
It was hard to adjust to life outside the Navy after spending her first four years as an adult having respect for authority and keen organizational skills. Conklin said working at the VA Medical Center is the “best of both worlds” because she feels comfortable with the people around her because they understand where she’s been as a fellow vet. But she also doesn’t have to worry about leaving her young daughter for a deployment.
Conklin moved to Grand Junction after she had her daughter in 2007 to be close to her mother and brother, who had moved here during her time in the Navy. She delivered mail for two years in the Redlands before getting hired at the VA in May. Her duties include controlling spending for various VA funds, maintaining a Facebook page for the center, handling donations and plenty of outreach duties, such as organizing “welcome home” events and tending to the requests of homeless vets. Until December, she also coordinated volunteers.
Her strong work ethic and excellent communication skills quickly changed the mind of anyone who assumed she was a young, naive newcomer who couldn’t handle the workload, according to Paul Sweeney, who works with her at the VA as a public affairs chief.
“She’s always looking for ways to challenge herself,” Sweeney said. “She’s very good at taking care of what needs taken care of.”
Conklin wants to keep challenging herself. She describes her halfway-complete journey toward a degree “really hard but necessary” to achieving her goals. She wants to stay in federal government, but isn’t sure there’s enough room for her to move up at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center. Her ambitions range from a public relations job at another VA to working for the FBI or CIA.
Wherever she goes next, she said she’ll never forget her first career.
“Joining the Navy was the best thing I ever did,” she said.