Joining the Marine Corps seemed like a crazy idea, but it launched Jen’s career and it gave her so many tools that she has used for the rest of her life. Check out this great interview with Jen Furlong about her experience in the Marine Corps as a Public Affairs Officer.
Jen has been in the communication field for 25 years, with experience in public affairs, community relations, writing, editing, and broadcasting. She has taught basic communication and public speaking courses at the college level for 15 years. Jen is an author, a TEDx presenter, founder of CommunicationTwentyFourSeven – a communication-focused blog, and a breast cancer survivor.
She served active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and was the first female Marine to be appointed editor of the Quantico Sentry newspaper and the first female Marine to be awarded the Sergeant Major Dan Daly Award by the Marine Corps Historical Foundation. She was also a recipient of the Best Feature Writer award by the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association. Jen was medically discharged due to a back injury after serving 3 years and 2 months. Prior to her discharge, she was presented with the Navy Achievement Medal.
She received a B.A and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University and is currently a Ph.D. student studying English Language and Applied Linguistics with the University of Birmingham – UK. Her passion is working with students, specifically veterans, and helping them achieve their academic and career goals. She and her husband, Greg, have been married for 22 years. Their daughter, Sarah, is a junior at Georgia Southern University and their son, Nate, is a LCpl serving active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and is currently stationed in Iwakuni, Japan.
Jen decided to join the military when she found out that her parents had no way to pay for college. She saw it as a way to do something new with her life. Her mom refused to sign the paperwork so she waited until her 18th birthday to enlist. It was hard for her. She committed to join the Marine Corps and no one around her supported her choice to do that. That made boot camp hard because she had all those people telling her she couldn’t do it. But she made it through by letting those voices go and then she was able to realize what she was capable of.
She served in PA and is thankful for the training she received in the military and the experiences that she got to be a part of it. The Marine Corps really set her life on the path it is today.
Some say they believe the military helped to mold them into who they are. I believe the military helped reveal who I am. When I decided to join, I didn't have the support of my family or my friends. Even my recruiter didn't have very much faith in me at the beginning. I can tell you about my recruiting story (it's funny). I ended up graduating in the honor platoon. Anyway, even though my time wearing the uniform was relatively short (just over 3 years), the lessons I learned while in the Corps still carry me through life today. I received a lot of awards and accolades, but I also got into my own fair share of trouble.
Connect with Jen:
Finding Herself in the Marines – Episode 12
Serving as an Officer in the Marine Corps – Episode 51
Amanda Huffman 00:00
Welcome to the women of the military podcast this week my guest is Jennifer Furlong before the interview, I asked her a few questions and she told me that some say they believe the military helped mold them into who they are. I believe the military help reveal who I am. When I decided to join, I didn't have the support of my family or my friends. Even my recruiter didn't have very much faith in me at the beginning, I ended up graduating in the honor platoon. Even though my time wearing the uniform was relatively short. The lessons I learned while in the Marine Corps still carry me through life today. I just thought this was a great way to overview what the episodes about so let's just get started. You are listening to the women of the military podcast where we share the stories of female servicemembers and how the military touch their lives. I'm your host, military veteran military spouse and mom, Amanda Huffman. My goal is to find the heart of the story and uncover issues when Men face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women, and be inspired to change the world, keep tuned for this latest episode of women of the military.
Jen has been in the communications field for 25 years with experiences in public affairs, community relations, writing, editing and broadcasting. She has taught basic Communications and Public Speaking courses at the college level for 15 years. She is an author, a TEDx, presenter, founder of communication 24 seven, a communication focus blog, and a breast cancer survivor. She served on active duty in the Marine Corps, and was the first female marine to be appointed editor of the Quantico century newspaper, and the first female marine to be awarded the sergeant major Dan Daly award by the marine corpse Marine Corps historical foundation. She was also the recipient of the best feature writer award by the Marine Corps combat Correspondents Association. Jen was medically discharged due to a back injury after serving three years in two months. Prior to discharge, she was presented with the Navy Achievement Medal. Welcome to the show today. I'm excited to hear a little bit about your experience. Oh, thanks for having me, Amanda. Let's dive in with Why did you decide to join the military?
Jennifer Furlong 02:33
I decided to join the military when I realized my senior year college just was not in the books for me. I had applied to one school and one school only and I actually was accepted into the school and I was on cloud nine for about 20 whole seconds after opening my letter when I showed it to my mom, and she just responded with so how are you going to pay for it? And I really had no answer to that question. Um, and, you know, my parents did not graduate from college, the adults who are around me, couldn't give me any advice on how to go to college. And you know, I just didn't know anything about the whole academic world. So I decided I needed to do something differently because I I knew I did not want to stay, you know where I was after graduation. So that's when I decided to go ahead and join the military. And just so happened one day, you know, back in high school, I don't know if they still do this anymore, but they used to have all the recruiters come in to, you know, to the lunchroom and they would set up all their tables and they would have all of their, you know, all their stuff up and I saw the army recruiter, I saw the Air Force recruiter, I saw the Navy recruiter, and I kind of just walked past all of them, and just made a beeline for the Marine Corps recruiter because I saw those dress blues. And I saw him standing there so straight and just kind of looking around at everybody just almost as if he was just, you know, above everything that was happening around him. And I just was so drawn to that I was like, Man that just, you know, there's just something about that uniform and the way he's standing there and that look in his eye that I was like, you know, I want to be a part of that. I feel like I need to be a part of that. So that's why I made the choice to go ahead and go for it and join the Marine Corps.
Amanda Huffman 04:42
So it was really the uniform was like the thing that drew you into the Marine Corps.
Jennifer Furlong 04:48
It was a combination of the the uniform and just the way he was carrying himself in that uniform. He just looked like he commanded respect and he just, you know, everyone who is in the room just kind of looked at him like, wow, this is, you know, something different. This is something unusual. And that got me excited. You know, I felt like this is maybe something that, you know, I want to become a part of just because he seemed like he was so in control of everything around him. Yeah, it was it was. It was pretty wild.
Amanda Huffman 05:28
So that was during your senior year of high school, right?
Jennifer Furlong 05:32
Yeah, that's right.
Amanda Huffman 05:33
And so how quickly after meeting him, did you enlist and go off to boot camp?
Jennifer Furlong 05:41
After I decided that this is how I wanted to go, this is you know what I wanted to do. I walked up to him, and I said, You know, I want to be a Marine and he just kind of looked at me funny. Like he did not take me seriously at all. And he gave me his card said meet me at the, at the office, you know, this Saturday at 8am. So I was like, okay and walked away and I don't think he took me seriously. So I showed up Saturday morning, walked into the recruiting office and no one was in there at the time. You know, no other recruits were in there at the time. And his eyes got huge when he saw me walk through that door. And he sat me down at the desk and told me to wait a second. So I waited at his desk while he's he walked to the back, you know, of the shop, and I heard him talk to what I understood to be the Gunny. You know, later on, I heard him say, Gunny, there's this girl out here. What do I got to do to get rid of her? And I was completely flabbergasted. And I didn't know it at the time, but he had never put a woman in the Marine Corps before. So I think he was just kind of, you know, to no fault of his own. Really. I just don't think he knew how to handle it. It was so...it was so new to him. And this was in 1991 when this happened, which is, you know, kind of surprising that he would have that reaction. But anyway, I heard the Gunny, tell him, give her all the tests, when she fails, you can get rid of her. So he came back out and gave me all the tests. And when I aced all of them, it kind of, you know, changed his mind. So, I immediately ended up going home, told my mom, this is what I wanted to do. I needed her permission, you know, to go to MEPS and and get my physical and she would not sign the forms while giving me permission. So I had to wait until my 18th birthday to be able to do that. So the day after my 18th birthday, I went to MEPS and did the physical and went ahead and swore in so I was in the delayed entry program. So between April of 1991 I had to wait until I shipped off to Parris Island October 28th of that same year.
Amanda Huffman 08:08
Did your mom think that if she like wouldn't sign it that your crazy idea would like go away? Or why did she not want to sign off on you joining?
Jennifer Furlong 08:18
I think she did have I think that was part of it. She was probably hoping that I would just, you know, this crazy idea that I had would just kind of blow over, you know, and but I think she was scared more than anything. I, the things that she was thinking would happen to me, she actually brought a friend of hers home from the bar one time there was this, I guess he was a Vietnam vet. And he was not happy with you know, I guess the experiences that he had in the military. And he had convinced my mom that it was the worst idea, you know, for her daughter to go into the Marine Corps. So she brought him home and hat in. She actually stood there and listened to as he berated me and yelled at me and basically told me, you know, if you join the Marine Corps, they're gonna send you to Guam and you're gonna get raped every day. Like, these are the words that he said to me. So it was just, it was just absolute insanity. The what was, you know, what was coming out of his mouth as far as trying to deter you know what I wanted to do? So I guess she was just scared and she just didn't, you know, nobody better she was just getting all this information from you know, the sky.
Amanda Huffman 09:41
Yeah. And the unfortunate part is that I've talked to women today who are looking into joining the military and they have, even today similar experiences where like, parents don't want them to join and they're like trying to dissuade them from joining and they aren't supportive and it can be because they don't understand or just because of their like, negative of experience or their negative perception. So that's, it's interesting that not like a lot has changed. But still stuff like that still happens. And that's part of what the podcast is about to give women like that an opportunity to hear stories from other people if their family supporting them is not being supportive and they can't get their questions answered.
Jennifer Furlong 10:25
Yeah, absolutely. That's why I'm so happy to be a part of this podcast because I think it's important that young women who make that decision to join the military that they have a way to get the information directly from the women who have the experience, you know, there's so much misinformation out there.
Amanda Huffman 10:46
So your job was in the communications field. What were you doing as a marine in the in the communications Phil?
Jennifer Furlong 10:57
I was in in Public Affairs and to this day, hands down, I think it's it's the best job in the military. It really is. Because, basically, you know it Public Affairs, we were, we were journalists, and a part of our job, you know, as journalists would be to tell the story of the Marine Corps. And so at the time, you know, when I was I was writing, I, I was tasked with just just find three stories every week, find three stories, go out there and see what you can find. And they can be human interest stories, they could be events, you know, that we're covering just, you figure it out, and I just loved that part of the job because it gave me an opportunity to just go to all of these different units speak with all these different Marines and you know, see what they were experiencing and what entailed their you know, different mo S's and it just, it was a great way to get an overview of the brain For itself, and, you know, it got me out of the office, I was able to just kind of come and go and make sure I had those stories come and it was, it was fantastic. I loved it.
Amanda Huffman 12:10
And it said in your bio that you were an editor, right?
Jennifer Furlong 12:15
Amanda Huffman 12:16
Which is pretty cool to be that young and like to be able to be an editor and get that kind of experience. I think that's one of the things I've learned through the podcast of hearing like different PA, people who are in the PA career field that they got to do things that it's a lot harder to do at a younger age, or even at all in their career, as in the civilian career field.
Jennifer Furlong 12:43
Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's, you are thrust into this job where you, you need to be ready, you have to be ready. And I remember one time, it was close to Christmas, and somebody had The Sally Jessy Raphael show had called our office and I don't know if you remember who Sally Jessy Raphael is, but she was what she had one of those talk shows, you know, back in the late 80s, up to the, I guess, late 90s. I'm not sure when her show went off the air. But her show had called her office and they wanted to do a special on military. And you know, especially with it being around the holidays, and we had a lot of Marines who were, you know, overseas at the time. So they sent me as the spokesperson to go sit, you know, on this stage on this talk show with I don't know, I made 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands of viewers. I don't even know, you know, how big the viewership. I was what maybe 21/22 at the time, it was pretty crazy. But yeah, you're absolutely right. The military. If You want to get some hands on experience, regardless of how young you are, they are going to make sure you get that hands on experience and they're going to expect you to do well at it too. That's the thing is they're going to have high expectations.
Amanda Huffman 14:13
That's true. So did you go to PA school after you finish boot camp to get trained or wasn't more hands on training?
Jennifer Furlong 14:21
I did right after Parris Island. I went to the Defense Information school. And at the time, it was at Fort Benjamin Harrison, which was in Indianapolis, and, you know, that base has since been closed, but I went to print journalism school there. We went through photo journalism school, and I also had broadcast journalism at that time, so it was all in all about, I'd say, nine, you know, nine months long. It was a pretty in depth school and I learned so much there. It was really the catalyst for the career that I have. Now and communications, so I'm so incredibly thankful for that experience.
Amanda Huffman 15:04
Yeah, that sounds really cool. And now that I'm like, in the media space and writing, I'm like, I want to.
Jennifer Furlong 15:14
Yeah. I'm telling you, anyone who asks asks about it, I'm like, Yeah, do it. If you have the opportunity, go for it. Absolutely. You know, it was the best thing that that could have happened to me, really.
Amanda Huffman 15:27
So did you face any challenges while serving in the Marine Corps? Especially, I mean, there's only 9% women today. I'm guessing it was lower than that when you were in?
Jennifer Furlong 15:38
Absolutely. I think any, you know, any woman going into the military period is going to face certain challenges. Whether it's, you end up suffering from imposter syndrome, you know, you question the validity of what you're able to, you know, offer being in the military, I think a lot of women will, you know, not only suffer from that, but you know, from other people doubting them. So I definitely, you know, had my fair share of struggles while serving the military. You know, one major struggle that I had was making sure that some of the, I guess the the stereotypes surrounding women in the Marine Corps, you know, I tried to not feed into that stereotype, I tried to make sure that I was the type of marine that I just wanted to be seen as a Marine, you know, um, so that was one of the struggles just being a female marine or you're constantly being referred to as a woman, marine. You know, we just wanted to be viewed as Marines. And then, you know, also just from, I had some issues with my public affairs officer, you know, as well With earning his respect, and having him see me as marine rather than, okay, the girl who works in the shop, you know, he could be incredibly disrespectful at times. And as a matter of fact, one of his friends, his daughter wanted to join the Marine Corps, she would have been talking about it. So he asked me if I would actually talk with her about my experiences, and I got so excited. And I said, Yes, absolutely, of course. Well, it turns out when when they brought her into the shop, we went into the, into the conference room, and as soon as they sat down, he asked me if I would just go get him some coffee. And I had to stand there, you know, and I was a corporal at the time. And I said, you know, sir, can I talk with you in private? And we went out into the hallway and I had to tell him, this was a major. I said, You know, I see what's going on here and I honestly I really do not appreciate it. I see that you're using me to try to show her that you know, if she He becomes enlisted that this is what she's going to experience when you and I both know, this is not how it is around here. You know? So yeah, that I had, you know, just like many other women I'm sure had struggles like that with trying to make sure that you could get the people around you to understand that you were just as deserving of respect. And you were just as deserving of wearing that uniform, you know, that they were
Amanda Huffman 18:26
Do you think it was like a two fold thing that he was trying to show like how women were treated in the Marine Corps and also enlisting or do because he picked you as a woman to talk to her but then he didn't even let you talk to her. Or do you think it was the officer enlisted type thing?
Jennifer Furlong 18:44
I do think it was more so the officer enlisted type thing. You know, even even though it from my perspective, it did come off as very sexist. You know, just because you know, being being a female and him asking me for To talk to another female about, you know, being a woman Marine, but I do think it was more an officer versus enlisted thing, which, you know, even that was just so incredibly just wrong to do that, you know?
Amanda Huffman 19:14
Yeah. Yeah, that's not the right way to do something
Jennifer Furlong 19:19
and talk about giving just misinformation because, you know, even though I didn't, I didn't have the opportunity to go and get my college education before joining the Marine Corps. Joining the Marine Corps first and getting all of the experience that I did get definitely helped prepare me for college, you know, so I had always known that college was going to be in the cards at some point, you know, down the road, but just kind of see it put in that light where, okay, you know, you go to college first so you can be better than, you know, enlisted, it really was eye opening for me. As far as at least what, you know, his opinion of being enlisted was,
Amanda Huffman 20:05
right. Yeah. And I think I'm working on a book to help women who are looking to join the military. And I'm doing a whole chapter on like, enlisted versus officer and like, the main point that I started at the beginning is like, there's no wrong choice, whatever is best for you, is the choice that you should make. And one isn't better than the other because the military can't function without both of them. And so it's it's kind of sad that he was like, so narrow minded focus that you can see past that.
Jennifer Furlong 20:38
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I tell this to my students all the time, especially, you know, I teach a lot of veterans and active duty students and I tell them, everybody has a different journey that we have to take and just because you know, you're sitting in this classroom right now, and, you know, the average age when I teach the type of classes that have more of the veteran And active duty military in them. Usually the average age in those classes is around 35, you know, mid to late 30s. And, you know, it's really important for me to just let them know, look, this doesn't say anything negative about you sitting in a college classroom, in your mid to late 30s, you're here and you have all this amazing experience prior, you know, to come into school and you're you're bringing all that experience that the rest of us can learn from, you know, in this classroom, so there's absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about or to be ashamed of just because, you know, you were enlisted, you know, in the military.
Amanda Huffman 21:40
Yeah. No, everyone should be proud of their military service. And yeah, were they served? Mm hmm. Besides those type of struggles, was there anything else I just think of Marine Corps and think of like, so tough? Like, I mean, people tell me I'm tough and I'm like, Yeah, but I'm not amazing.
Jennifer Furlong 22:03
feeding into that stereotype, right? Yeah. I, you know, I think that the toughness of it is just it's more of a mental toughness than anything. You know, my son had decided to join the Marine Corps a couple of years ago. And as Matter of fact, I was on Facebook and a couple of the reminders, you know how they do the memories. And a couple of memories popped up where he showed up on the Parris Island website, because they were showing pictures of the Marines in the squad Bay, they were, you know, getting their uniforms, you know, tailored and then we're getting close to graduation. And it just reminded me of, you know, conversation that I had with him prior to him going to Parris Island and I said, you know, it's it's 80% mental out there. You got to remember no matter what you do is going to be wrong. Even when you do it right is going to be wrong. That's their job, they're gonna push you, you know, just about to the breaking point. And I think that's something that as a Marine, you kind of carry with you for the rest of your days, whether you decide to, you know, stay in and retire or, you know, you end up getting out of the military after, you know, one or two tours. It's just, it's that mental toughness that you just know for a fact that if something happens, you're going to find a way through it, around it over it under it, you know, whatever you got to do. That obstacle that's in front of you is not going to hold you back. If you really want what's on the other side. You know, you're going to figure it out. So I think that's more of the toughness that exists as a part of that, you know, Marine Corps mindset than anything.
Amanda Huffman 23:51
And do you feel like you had that in you all along, and then the military brought it out and like, really was able to like hone in on like what who you were and what your purpose was,
Jennifer Furlong 24:04
I think it was something that the Marine Corps revealed that was in me that I didn't realize was there at the time. I had always known I was stubborn. You know, I was always a stubborn, stubborn kid. And there was a lot of things you you couldn't tell me that I couldn't do something, you know, if I had set my mind to it, I was I was gonna do it regardless what anybody else said. But the challenge was when, you know, I made the decision to join the Marine Corps. What was different was that, you know, there truly was not one person around me that supported that decision. it you know, my mom, my dad, my other family members, you know, my friends and, you know, even up to the recruiter, you know, at the very beginning, there was just not one person that said, Oh, man That's pretty awesome. I think you could do that I think you're gonna kick ass. You know, there was not one person that said that. So I kind of had that in the back of my head going into boot camp. You know, when I was standing on those yellow footprints, you know, the D eyes yelling and screaming at you, I had all those other people still in my head telling me, you know, at least it was messing with my head, are you? I don't know if you can do this, maybe you made a mistake. You know, maybe you're not, you're ready for this. Or maybe you're not built for this. But then, after a few weeks, I learned to let all of those voices in my head Go. They had to, you know, I had to make them go silent. And then that's when I was able to really realize what I was capable of. So I think going through that experience of boot camp really just more so revealed, how much I could accomplish, and the things that I could do if I was just willing to just let all of that residue, that negative residue that was holding on to me Just let all of that go. And then I was able to really perform the way I needed to, you know, in order to do well, because that I ended up graduating in the honor platoon. And I honestly don't think I would have been able to do that. If I had just, you know, kept all that negativity in my brain and worried about what everybody else was thinking versus just worried about, you know, just do this for me, this isn't for anybody else. This is for me.
Amanda Huffman 26:30
All right. That's cool that you were able to go through that process while you're going through boot camp and how it pushed you forward.
Jennifer Furlong 26:38
You know, sometimes I think when you're placed in a position like that, you you really don't have a choice. Well, I guess you do have a choice. But you know, if you truly want to get through that struggle, or you know, whatever that goal is that you're trying to reach at the end. If you can just reach that point where you can realize And tell yourself you know, it's everybody else be damned. I, you know, I really want this for me. And I think that's the key, you know, for for anybody really is figuring out why are you doing this and then making sure you're doing it for the right reasons. That's so true.
Amanda Huffman 27:15
Yeah, that's funny. You're like, I don't have to. It's like when I deployed the military had me doing something I really didn't want to do. And I was like, Well, I guess I've got to do this. Yeah. might as well make the best of it. Exactly. So you mentioned you mentioned in the bio, or I guess I mentioned whatever, that you had a back injury and you had to leave the service earlier than you probably plan. So what was the medical board? Like and how did that all come about?
Jennifer Furlong 27:51
That was such a struggle for me because, you know, my initial injury actually happened in boot camp. I remember, you know, I kind of bent down I was lacing up my boots and I, you know, went ahead and straight into my backup and as soon as I stood up I could feel something pinch. But, you know, I really didn't think too much of it and I just kind of limped around, you know, for a cup a couple of days, you know, going through the motions just trying to get through it. Um, I did end up going to sec Hall because it ended up hurting so bad at one point that I was getting, obviously getting into the way of the training. So I went to a call and they do what they always do, right, you know, here's some Motrin in and then we're gonna say, here's the motor and do some stretches and you know, get back out there so I kind of, you know, I did what I was supposed to do, and I was able to get through it, and it kept getting better and getting worse, getting better and getting worse and then you know when I fast forward to another episode When I was at Quantico, and I was covering a story on the special reaction team, and so they went into what's called combat town, you know, at Quantico. And they were, they were running around, you know, going up ladders, on top of all these buildings running across groups, you know, running into buildings. And so here I am, you know, trying to keep up with with all of them. And I got on the ladder, climbed onto the roof, got some fantastic shots of you know, these, these great pictures of the special reaction team, you know, doing their thing. And then when I climbed down the ladder that was on the side of the building, I jumped a little too soon. And then when I landed on my feet, I could feel my back pinch again. But then that time it was it wasn't just a pinch, though. I mean, I could tell it was something even more severe. So that's when I ended up going to the hospital and got an MRI done, and they could tell I had a herniated disk. So unfortunately at that point in time, they did not believe in chiropractic care as a legitimate form of medicine. So, I went to physical training I, you know, got all of the the shots that you could get, you know, everything that they do, and my back just wasn't getting any better. And so finally, they told me Look, if, if you end up not being able to pass your final physical fitness test because of this injury, you're not going to be able to reenlist. And so, I went to the board, and I begged and pleaded and, you know, I tried to come up with every answer in the book and the only thing they responded with was, the only thing left that you can do is back surgery, you know, to try to see if maybe that would fix the problem. And to be honest with you, I just I was scared to Have the idea of anybody going in there and messing around, you know, fine. So I decided, well, I guess that's that, you know, and I, I cried. I just I cried and cried for days and days. Because I tell you what, wearing that uniform had just become such a huge part, you know of who I was, that was a really hard pill to swallow to realize, you know, you, you can't fight this fight, you don't want to have the surgery. Your back is to the point where you can barely walk. So you're definitely not going to be able to you know, pass the run, you know, on the PFT. So I just had to kind of put my hands in the air and say all right, I guess that's that so then I was you know, med boarded out.
Amanda Huffman 31:51
Yeah. So like your career ended before it even Yeah, really had a chance to go. I mean, you got to do amazing But you weren't ready to get out. You were forced out because of a back injury, which
Jennifer Furlong 32:04
Yeah, absolutely, I was so not ready to get out. And you're right. It was just, you know, right at the beginning and I was able to, you know, I feel like I was able to get so much out of that time, you know, that I was in the Marine Corps and there was just, you know, so much more I felt that I could do if I could just, you know, remain in and keep wearing that uniform, but it just, you know, life has a funny way of getting in the way things happen. And you just have to kind of think about Alright, what's my next step was my next move.
Amanda Huffman 32:39
So what was your next move?
Jennifer Furlong 32:43
Well, after after I got out, I decided, you know, well, it became painfully clear, regardless of all of this amazing experience that I had, you know, in public affairs, being in you know, the journalism industry. Every job that I tried to get had a minimum requirement of having a bachelor's degree, you know, so I realized real quickly, I need to go back to school. But you know, I didn't go back to school right away. I met my husband, you know, we had our son, and then we had our daughter. And after my daughter was about one year old, that's when I decided, look, I really need to get back to school because, you know, I want to get back into the communication field. I want to have a career in this, but I can't do this until I get the education. So I use my GI bill to help me you know, get my bachelor's degree. And that's kind of you know, how I got into this whole education area. From there. I got my bachelor's and then from there I got my masters and now I'm in year three of my Ph. D program. And
Amanda Huffman 33:54
I'm pretty sure but I can't remember exactly does the GI Bill the Montgomery GI Bill has like a tie. window that you have to use it before it expires. Was that part of like, why you went back when she turned one? Did you have a certain amount of time? Or were you not concerned about that?
Jennifer Furlong 34:11
I really wasn't concerned about that. I think there was a time limit, but I don't think I was I was close to that time limit. It just seemed like it was the right time for me. You know, I just felt like this need, I need to get back to school so that I can move forward, you know, with whatever it is that I wanted to do. Yeah, that makes sense.
Amanda Huffman 34:31
So what is your career been like since going to school and getting to get in the public affairs on the civilian side? So what have you got to do? I mean, you said like TEDx presenter, you're an author. you started your communication focus blog. So what what has that been like?
Jennifer Furlong 34:54
It's it's been challenging in that, you know, There are a lot of things that have happened that and I, you know, when anyone with anyone's life, there's going to be things that happen that you don't plan for it to happen, but it still has an impact on the trajectory, you know that you're going, you know, I had this whole plan in my head that I'll get my bachelor's degree, you know, in communication, I focused in public relations, I'll probably get this awesome job, you know, for some, some organization where, you know, they need someone in public relations and you know, I'll have this fantastic career going in that trajectory and I went in a completely different trajectory without even meaning to because after I got my bachelor's degree, I took a year off, and I ended up getting this job with fairfax county public schools where I was a communication specialist with them and I ended up You know, working in the school system and absolutely loved it because the primary point of that job was to help teachers with professional development. So I would help with training sessions with their communication skills, listening skills and all that stuff. And it was a lot of fun. But when I decided to go back for my master's degree in 2004, I was a year out from graduating with my master's degree. And one of my professors came up to me and he said, Hey, we have this public speaking class, it's full and we don't have a teacher for it. So do you want to teach it? And I was just kind of standing there looking at him and I was like, uh, I've never taught a class before in my life. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. But I asked myself, am I gonna get paid for it? And he said, yeah, it's like, Okay. I was like, What the hell, I'll do it. And so you know, I have Put together a syllabus, you know, of course with his help. And luckily the textbook I was teaching from was the same textbook that I had actually taken public speaking as an undergrad, you know, myself, so at least I knew the textbook. And so my career in education and becoming a communication instructor really just happened by accident. You know, that's how it happened. It just there happened to be an opening, nobody was available, and they were desperate enough that they asked the graduate students to take take control of it, so I did.
Amanda Huffman 37:34
That's kind of a cool story about how you are like, you're gonna pay me Okay, I can figure out how to do this.
Jennifer Furlong 37:41
Exactly. So that's but you never know what's gonna happen. You just gotta, I guess you just gotta be open for the opportunities and you know, just kind of say, what the hell you know, one of my favorite quotes, I try to remind myself of my favorite quote a lot when I'm thinking about whether or not I want to do something, and it's Zen quote, and it says jump and the net will appear. So I try to go by that, you know, you don't know what's gonna happen next, but dammit jump, the nettle appear, you know, whatever happens gonna happen and I'm I'm sure that whatever supposed to happen is gonna happen so don't worry about it too much
Amanda Huffman 38:22
My commander told me before I left for Afghanistan and he said jump it isn't that far and that's kind of the quote that I used to get through the deployment and he was right it never was as far as I thought it was. And I like the net appearing too because it's true. Like you have to jump and you can't, you can't see where you're gonna land. But often it's not as far or like something will catch you and you never know what will happen. So,
Jennifer Furlong 38:51
yeah, and it's going to be okay. Not to say that it's not going to be hard and not to say that you're not going to have some challenges. And you'll have those days where you're just like, what the hell Why me? But you know, it's still something that is doable, and you'll get through it. Absolutely.
Amanda Huffman 39:09
For sure. Is there anything else from either your military experience or your civilian experience that you wanted to talk about on the podcast?
Jennifer Furlong 39:23
I just one of the experiences that I've had now, you know, on the civilian side is just working, still working with military, you know, I don't know, there's something about you know, being a veteran, you always have this respect for, you know, your, your, your fellow military, you know, members and their families. And, you know, one of the things that I just hope I can impress upon anyone who is currently in the military and they know that they're, you know, getting ready to Get out, is to just know that there are a lot of resources in place for them. And, you know, to not be afraid to reach out and to ask for help, because they would be really surprised, especially if they're curious about going back to school. You know, getting back into the civilian sector, there's so many of us out here who are willing and ready to help them, you know, make that transition, especially if they decide to go back to school and earn their degree. You know, that's the one thing that I try to keep at least, you know, one one finger in the pie, you know, so to say that if you're a veteran, and you want to go back to school, absolutely 100% you have my support, and if there's anything that I can do, you know, to kind of help make make that transition easier, then just reach out. Absolutely. I'm more than happy to, you know, offer any support that I can.
Amanda Huffman 40:59
Yeah, and all your information will be in the show notes so that if people need to reach out or if they have questions, and I am going to be using my GI Bill soon, so I might take you up on that offer.
Jennifer Furlong 41:10
Yes, absolutely. And hey, the GI Bill these days is a hell of a lot better than the GI Bill I had. I'm actually kind of jealous.
Amanda Huffman 41:21
I'm the post 9/11 is Yeah, that's really good.
Jennifer Furlong 41:24
It's amazing. definitely take advantage of it.
Amanda Huffman 41:26
Yeah. And the other thing that you mentioned about the veteran community, I think, for me, I was really afraid of the veteran community because I felt like an outsider because I was a woman. But I've through the podcast, oddly enough, I have gotten more involved in the veteran community. And I've found like so much support and so much just amazing, like the connection that you have with people who've served and it's kind of weird because I grew up having a lot of guy friends and then the military like guy friends, but then I became mom. So I have only girlfriends and now have a few like, male veterans that I like have become friends with and I feel like, Oh yeah, I used to be friends with guys I forgot, you know, just because it took me into a different place and I kind of like, ostracized myself away from that community and I was really missing out. But I love women veterans, because it's even like a deeper connection. It's really a lot of fun to be around them.
Jennifer Furlong 42:29
You know? I'm not happy to hear you say that because I think it's a great thing that happened but but I'm happy to hear you say that because I think that happens to so many of us women veterans and and I think it's something I don't know, it goes back to that whole imposter syndrome thing. And, you know, we get out of the military and we forget, you know, that the service that we did was just as valid as anybody else to serve. You're so right. It's so easy to for us to just remove ourselves from the community. Because for some reason, we just feel different, you know, almost as if we don't belong, and we absolutely do belong. So the work that you're doing with this podcast is is so important, you know, and it's really bringing a lot of us together. And this is this is a community that that I think many of us need for that exact reason.
Amanda Huffman 43:24
Yeah. And I totally agree. And like, it's the it's surprising. I mean, I knew women. Well, I thought women veteran would like it. I hope they would. But it's really surprised me this past year, how many male veterans have been so supportive of the podcast and so willing to like, tell other women that they know and they're just so excited and it just reminded me of that community that we had, like, you were talking in the beginning about like not being a female Marine, but just being a Marine and like, I'm always an airman. I'm not a female airman and this the military has this like, great way of doing that. They just focus on you as like being a soldier or an airman or whatever your service branches and not separating males and females and the veteran community is the same way. It's just a lot harder, I think, to figure out how you fit into it. And it's a little scary. So, but it's a place you just have to just have to get involved and get connected.
Jennifer Furlong 44:23
Yeah, absolutely. And that's the key. I think you're you're right. That's the key is you just have to be willing to become involved. And, you know, whenever you get those invitations to, to go and do something, don't hesitate, you know, go out there and do it, because those connections are so important to be able to make.
Amanda Huffman 44:43
Yeah, it's so true. So I have one last question for you. It's what would you tell young women considering joining the military?
Jennifer Furlong 44:54
I would say, go for it. I think it's an absolutely fantastic idea. I mean, I know it's easy to look back at military service with with rose colored lenses. I think a lot of us tend to do that, you know, we'll, we'll look back at service with a, you know, a sense of fondness and, but it, we do know that there's challenges, we do know that there are struggles along the way. But, you know, I think serving in the military really helps you learn how to handle those struggles and how to handle those challenges. Whether you end up staying in and retiring or you know, you just like many of us do one tour, and you end up getting out for whatever reason, the, the, what you learn about yourself and the skills that you develop, they will take you such a long way, you know, even after the military going back to school, or you know, going into the workforce, so anybody out there who is even considering joining the military, I would say don't let it scare you. And just think of all the positives that you'll actually get out of it.
Amanda Huffman 46:09
Yeah, it isn't easy, but I don't think anything in life that's worth doing is easy. Because, you know, there's always going to be a challenge. And that's how you grow. So yeah,
Jennifer Furlong 46:20
Absolutely. And I mean, pushing yourself to the limit. I mean, there's a, there's something about, you know, coming out on the other side, when you know that you have gone through something so difficult that so many others have not been able to go through it, it just gives you this inner strength that, you know, you realize you didn't have and you just kind of carry that with you for the rest of your days. It's just, it's, it's something that is irreplaceable. And I think, you know, the military definitely helps us grow, you know, in that area.
Amanda Huffman 46:53
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for all the support that you're given. to veterans in the past and currently today, I know that as a veteran, I appreciate all the work that you're doing. And I definitely will be reaching out about GI Bill help, because that's like the main thing. I'm like, I don't know what to do. And it's probably really easy, but it's the government. So it can't be that easy.
Jennifer Furlong 47:20
Right? Yeah, get get through the bureaucracy. But I'm telling you, once you get into that classroom, you know, still reach out as well, because there's, you know, different challenges of being a veteran in the classroom as well. But I think the experiences that you had is definitely, you know, you're gonna get through it just fine. But I'm so happy congratulations for making the decisions. The decision to go back to school.
Amanda Huffman 47:47
Yeah, so that's all I have for you. And just thank you again for being on the podcast.
Jennifer Furlong 47:52
Yeah, thank you for having me. And also, you know, thank you for doing what you do for the veteran community. It's very much needed. So, we appreciate you.
Amanda Huffman 48:03
Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to this episode of women of the military. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any of the amazing stories I have with women who have served in our military. Did you love the show? Don't forget to leave a review. Finally, if you are a woman who has served or is currently serving in the military, please email me at airman to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can set you up to be on a future episode of women of the military.