Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful. Semper Gumby: Always Flexible.
Kara Coonrod is well-acquainted with both the official and unofficial motto of the United States Marine Corps.
“You always have to be flexible like Gumby the cartoon,” Coonrod said. “Plans change all the time.”
A second-year student at the Blinn College – Bryan campus, Coonrod shipped off to Paris Island, S.C. for Marine Corps boot camp immediately after her high school graduation.
“I knew I wanted to help people in some way, but I also knew that I didn’t want to go to college right away,” Coonrod said.
Following combat training at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., Coonrod began occupational specialty training to become a combat photographer before she was assigned to Okinawa Island, Japan.
“It was different than anything I’d done before,” Coonrod said. “My job was to photograph anything the Marine Corps needed, which consisted mostly of ceremonial and forensic photography.”
After several years working as a combat photographer in both Okinawa and Quantico, Va., she was ordered to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) as a forensic photographer stationed in Hawaii. Her duties included canvasing war sites to find remains of men and women who never made it home from combat.
“It was a really rewarding experience,” Coonrod said. “There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment in being able to bring them home. The command often got letters from families and their gratitude made the most trying parts of the missions worth it.”
On July 30, 2012, nine years and two days after Coonrod entered the Marine Corps, her service ended due to injury.
“I had hoped to serve for 20 years, but life does what it wants,” Coonrod said.
Coonrod moved from Hawaii back to Texas and enrolled at Blinn College in August 2012, preparing to transfer into a Texas A&M University engineering program and follow in her father’s footsteps.
“I started classes at Blinn and quickly realized that engineering really wasn’t my cup of tea,” Coonrod said with a laugh.
Instead, she turned her focus to a business degree. Last month, she received a letter of acceptance and a $54,000 academic excellence scholarship from Texas Christian University.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “It’s a relief and a real blessing.”
Though Coonrod is still carving out the path for her future, she encourages others to set goals and remain flexible.
“Look at what’s out there and focus on what you’re interested in,” she said. “It’s hard to know what you want to do when you’re just starting out. Don’t go in to something just for the money. Talk to career counselors, ask questions and you’ll wind up where you’re supposed to be.”
Blinn enrolled 18,413 students this Fall and has experienced 31.1 percent growth since 2006. Founded in 1883, the College’s tuition and fees average about one-third the cost of the same classes at most four-year public universities in the state. In addition to its campuses in Brenham, Bryan, Schulenburg and Sealy, the College teaches online courses, dual credit for high school and prepares students for quick employment through its career and technical certification programs. For enrollment information and to learn about financial aid opportunities, visit: www.blinn.edu.