COTC student has found a new sense of purpose thanks to human services program project.
NEWARK, Ohio, June 24, 2019 – When Megan Connell-Cox joined the United States Navy at 21, she was trying to run away from a life of problems that wasn't working for her anymore, but she was also unknowingly running toward a life with direction filled by her true purpose and passion.
"I wasn't happy with my life at that point. I wasn't happy with where I was living, how I was living, what I was doing or where I saw my life was heading," she said. Connell-Cox's life had been punctuated by traumatic events that left their mark on her and caused her to turn to drugs and alcohol.
She enlisted as an aviation ordnanceman in Jan. 2001 and was stationed at Top Gun Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada. Her duties included inspection, maintenance and repair of aircraft mechanical and electrical armament/ordnance systems. She stowed, assembled, tested, serviced, loaded and downloaded aviation ammunition such as aerial mines, torpedoes, missiles, rockets and more. "When I was 21, belonging to the military didn't mean to me what it means to me today," she said.
As a member of the nation's armed forces, the events of 9/11 made a particular mark on Connell-Cox. The subsequent military operation, Operation Enduring Freedom, meant she performed the dangerous duties of an aviation ordnanceman far more often. In late summer of 2002, Connell-Cox was injured when loading an MK-82 500 lb. (inert) bomb.
"It was just a natural reaction to try to prevent something I had lost my grip on from hitting the ground," she said. "The medical issues I have today because of that afternoon in the hangar range from those in my sacral iliac to bulging and deteriorating discs in my lower back to spinal stenosis and arthritis. Those are just the major issues that have required surgeries."
After being discharged from the military, the long list of medications prescribed to her because of her injuries became crutches for addiction. Earlier life trauma and military experiences caused post-traumatic stress (PTS) that pushed Connell-Cox to spend several years lost in a seemingly never-ending cycle of addiction and rehab.
She has been clean and sober for ten years. "I am sober today because of a daily acknowledgment of addiction and PTS, a humble attitude toward the reprieve of them and consistent maintenance of my spiritual life," said Connell-Cox.
Connell-Cox's sobriety has led her to her true purpose and passion in life: social work. She enrolled in Central Ohio Technical College's (COTC) human services program in 2017. During her education at COTC, she has consistently earned high grades placing her on the honors list several times. She was invited to and joined COTC's chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the largest and most prestigious honor society for two-year college students, in which she was elected to the position of the chapter secretary.
"I honestly believe that the last two years as a student learning the professional side of helping those with issues that I have dealt with and still do has really shown me that social work is the correct career path for me," she said.
Her most enduring contribution to the campus and community will be a PTS monument. As a veteran who deals with PTS, Connell-Cox felt that the best use of her human services program practicum project was to create, plan and execute the placement of a monument on COTC's Newark campus to honor active duty military, veterans, law enforcement and first responders who suffer or have suffered from PTS.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 31 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD and 22 veterans commit suicide each day because of PTSD issues. An estimated 30 percent of emergency responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and PTSD, according to researchers Abbott, et al. Another study by John Violanti, a retired officer who studies the topic at the University of Buffalo, found that law enforcement officers specifically face a 69 percent higher risk of suicide than the general population.
"I just wanted to create a message that says, 'Support is here for you. Please reach out and ask for help. We thank you and we care.' I hope this monument starts conversations and helps bring attention to this very prevalent issue in the nation," said Connell-Cox.
The monument, a large sandstone boulder featuring two meaningful engraved phrases and a flag pole flying the American flag, a custom-created PTS Awareness flag and the All-Services U.S. Armed Forces Flag, will be placed outside Jane C. and William T. McConnell Hall. The dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony will be on July 15 at 2 p.m. followed by a reception. It is free and open to the public.
Connell-Cox will continue her education in social work pursuing her bachelor's degree just two weeks after her Aug. 2 graduation from COTC.
Photo captions: Top: Connell-Cox at the aviation school training facility in Pensacola, FL in front of an F-14 Tomcat after completing boot camp. Bottom: Base of PTS monument before installation.
COTC is a fully accredited, public college dedicated to providing high quality, accessible programs of technical education in response to current and emerging employment needs. COTC is the only technical college in Ohio operating four full-service campus locations: Newark, Coshocton, Knox and Pataskala.