Rhonda Nelson was 18, six months out of high school, when she joined the Navy in 1992 and went to boot camp in Orlando, Florida. Nelson, who hails from Guymon, Oklahoma, said she was able to prepare herself for the difficult moments of boot camp.
"They try to get you broken down and tired and missing home and all that stuff," she recalled. "You know, they try to get people to give up. For me going into it, it was all just a mindset of you have to do what you're told and not argue. If you know when you go in that this is just a mission that you have to accomplish, then it's easier."
After boot camp, Nelson headed to Pensacola for a training class, which ultimately led to an assignment at the Panama Canal where she was stationed for two years. During this time, Nelson worked on Galeta Island as fleet support and handled messages and communications between fleets.
Nelson, 45, served five and a half years before she left the Navy in 1997 to raise her children. She and her husband, Howard, have four children, ranging in age from 8 to 24. But Nelson said she missed her time in the Navy.
"I tried to get back in for the whole 11 years I was out," she said. "But they just either weren't taking prior service at the time, or I couldn't find a recruiter willing to work with me, but I finally found a recruiter in Oklahoma City. We just happened to find each other at the grocery store one day, and we were talking, and she happened to be a prior service recruiter. And she said she'd like to talk to me about joining again."
Nelson was able to find her way back through the Navy Reserve. She eventually was able to go back to active duty in 2013 by signing up to be a recruiter in Amarillo.
"Recruiting was probably my favorite duty," Nelson said. "Most people don't really like recruiting duty, but I loved it because I'm just very proud of what I do. And the Navy sells itself, you don't have to sell the Navy. So you get to be in uniform all the time, you go out and you meet people, you do presentations and job fairs and all that stuff. I really liked it because I felt like I was helping people pursue their career."
Nelson says her two passions in life are her family and her Navy. She left active duty in 2017, and currently serves in the Reserve out of Fort Worth. She has worked as an administrative assistant at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service's fire school in College Station, and recently started a job as customer service associate at Texas A&M.