LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 6, 2013) — Growing up in a military family in Allentown, Pa., Rebecca Stinsky knew at a young age that she wanted to join the military, and there was never any question which branch.
Her immediate family represented three branches of the military: her dad and older brother, the Marines; her mom, the Army; an older sister, the Navy. But Stinsky was drawn to what she describes as the "unmatched camaraderie" of the Marines.
As a high school senior, Stinsky had a clear plan that would lead to her dream of becoming a Marine Corps pilot. She knew she would need a college education, aviation experience and Marine Officer School. She was accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and enlisted in the Marine reserves.
Stinsky's life has had some stops, starts, and unexpected turns, but she remains as focused today as she was in high school. She is currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and is preparing to return to Lexington where she will begin her sixth semester at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, where she holds a 3.8 GPA. To listen to Stinsky talk about her life, one quickly recognizes that she is smart, ambitious, has a very strong work ethic and holds herself to high professional standards.
After six months in the Marine reserves, Stinsky realized that college wasn't financially feasible at the time, so she transferred to active duty where she served as an airframe mechanic and aircrew on CH-53E helicopters. As an airframe mechanic, she supervises and inspects all maintenance tasks pertaining to the hydraulics, corrosion control and structural integrity of the aircraft. As aircrew, she assists in preparing the aircraft for flight, loading and unloading aircraft, and she mans weapon systems as the mission dictates.
"I have had the opportunity to travel around the country for everything from training exercises to public relation events including static displays and flyovers. During this time I also deployed to Afghanistan," she said.
In 2010, Stinsky's time on active duty was up and she had the chance to re-enlist or be discharged.
"I loved my job, I loved being a Marine, and was extremely proud of what I had accomplished," she said. "Yet, I was ready to leave the active duty lifestyle."
By that time, she had earned 100 percent GI benefits and wanted to get her college degree. Her fiancé, also a Marine, had moved to Lexington to work after active duty in Iraq, which led Stinsky to UK.
She describes transitioning out of the Marine Corps to be "an experience all its own." She began to miss the structure, the people she worked with, and the sense of purpose she had in the Marines. She decided to re-enlist in the Marine Corps reserves.
"Now, once a month and for two weeks in the summer, I put on my uniform and do what I need to do as a Marine," Stinsky said. "Throughout the month when I am not at drill, I am still very connected through phone calls and emails with my Marines and unit’s activities."
There were still challenges at home in Lexington navigating the VA system and finding work with an 18-credit-hour semester drawing near. However, true to Stinsky's personality, she took those challenges and turned them into her strengths.
"It is a well-known fact that transitioning from the military lifestyle to being a civilian is not easy," Stinsky said. "Now with the draw-down in Iraq and Afghanistan even more veterans are coming home, discharging and attempting the transition with the added stress of combat related injuries. This is where social work comes into my life. I share with Marines in my unit my experiences, some of the tricks I have learned along the way and refer them to those that have the answers. But I want to help all veterans, whether it is with navigating the systems that are currently in place, alcohol/drug counseling, suicide prevention or stepping up to the big leagues and changing the whole process."
In addition to serving in the Marine reserves and her academic life at UK, Stinsky works part-time, volunteers with a youth program and a therapy dog program, and is planning for married life. Stinsky's schedule is ambitious by most people's standards. She says that keeps her motivated.
"I find that I work best when under stress, and I was always taught that keeping yourself busy will keep you out of trouble," she says. "All it takes to be successful is some time management, being organized, and support from friends and family."
Kate Wilder, academic advisor in the College of Social Work, says Stinsky has done an outstanding job balancing her military and academic responsibilities.
"We worked together before she left for Japan to construct her graduation plan and practicum around her deployment," Wilder said. "Because she has stayed in close communication with us while she has been in Okinawa, she is set to resume classes in January. Her initiative and organization have helped her immensely and she has been an inspiration and joy to work with."
Stinsky's life took another turn last December when her reserve unit learned that they were going to deploy to Okinawa to support re-establishing the Unit Deployment Program. Without hesitation, Stinsky was ready and willing to go.
"As a reserve Marine you are limited to one weekend a month and two weeks of training in the summer," she said. "This was an opportunity for me to gain additional experience, train/mentor my junior Marines, and in general just do something I love doing. With a lot of support from my fiancé, the College of Social Work and my employer, I was able in a way to put my civilian life on hold to, on a much larger scale, shift our nation’s focus from Iraq/Afghanistan back to the Pacific."
Stinsky will no doubt use her personal experience to encourage and assist her fellow service members through social work, including some core values that are intuitively Sgt. Rebecca Stinsky.
"I would like them to remember we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves as professionals on and off duty," she said. "You represent your entire branch of service. Even after you leave active duty to pursue school, work or retirement, others are going to recognize your service and hold you to a higher standard."
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