FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 9, 2009) - Sgt. Melinda Griffin served an Army at war for five years, preserved her marriage through deployment and became a rising star among noncommissioned officers - all by the age of 24.

Griffin works in the laboratory at Munson Army Health Center. She also volunteers in the personnel section. On March 17, Griffin was inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.

Sgt. 1st Class April Summers, noncommissioned officer in charge of the lab, gave Griffin high praise.

"She is an outstanding worker, she has a positive attitude, she goes out of her way to help her junior Soldiers and the rest of the Soldiers within the unit," Summers said. "She sends care packages downrange for our deployed Soldiers and officers. She is always ready for any situation and presents herself in a professional manner."

But it wasn't always that way for Griffin. She said she transformed herself from a Soldier who had problems meeting weight and physical training requirements as well as attitude issues to the NCO she is today.

A month after graduating high school in 2003, Griffin left for basic training. Her only goal was to get out of her hometown of Palestine, Texas. Her family was supportive of her decision to join the military - especially her veteran father and grandfathers - but her mother was concerned for her safety.

"I have a big supportive military family, but because of the war my mom really didn't want me to join," she said.

Griffin convinced her family that she would have financial stability with the Army.

"Just look at the job market," she said. "I have free health care, which is something I didn't have growing up."

Although Griffin said her family wasn't poor, they did not have health insurance and there were times when they relied on the kindness of strangers for help.

At first, Griffin wasn't sure she wanted to stay in the Army. Meeting her physical requirements was a challenge for her, and she was frustrated about not being promoted.

Griffin said there were two major turning points in her life: attending the Warrior Leader Course and getting married to Sgt. Luke Griffin.

At the Warrior Leader Course, Griffin was given the opportunity to learn to lead Soldiers.
"I think it was helping Soldiers who were just as lost as me," she said. "It made me see my purpose."

Her marriage was also a turning point, but that also didn't come without difficulties, Griffin said. She was married in September 2005, but her husband was deployed three months later. Sgt. Luke Griffin is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the specialty clinic.

"We spent our first year apart," she said. "When he got back we had to spend time getting to know each other again and learning to live with each other since we really hadn't had that opportunity before."

Griffin said it was her husband and her noncommissioned officers who helped her achieve her fitness goals. She went on runs every day with her husband. Medical Activity NCOs were at her PT every morning, making sure she didn't fall behind.

In April 2008, Griffin was promoted to sergeant.

"People expected so much of me as a sergeant, it gave me an incentive," she said.

Not only did she get her promotion, but her senior NCOs suggested she try for SAMC induction.

"I figured I was too young, too inexperienced, but my first sergeant (1st Sgt. Cari Vande Kamp) gave me all the info and said to try it," she said.

Griffin said her husband supported her throughout the SAMC boards and entry process.

"I didn't believe I could do it, and he did," she said. "At the boards, (SAMC judges) were really impressed with my demeanor and the way I was able to answer questions."

Griffin is excited about her new role with SAMC volunteering in the community and serving as a leader.

Summers said Griffin gives up a lot of personal time to take care of patients, Soldiers and coworkers at MAHC. Griffin is part of the morale committee and organizes fundraisers and events for her unit. She also teaches religious classes at a local Catholic parish, Sacred Heart-St. Casimir, in Leavenworth.

Griffin has been assigned to Fort Leavenworth for four years. During her tenure, she was able to earn an associate degree in health science from George Washington University in 2006. She is working on another associate degree in forensics chemistry from Kansas City Kansas Community College. Her goal is to earn a bachelor's in forensics chemistry and to work in Army toxicology labs. Taking advantage of Fort Leavenworth's education is one recommendation she makes to junior Soldiers.

"You may be tired from working 12 hour days, but you should go to school, take advantage of it," she said. "It's so funny to hear people complain about Fort Leavenworth. If you're not taking advantage of it, it's probably why you're not liking it."

Griffin said she could identify with many issues young Soldiers have and enjoys watching them succeed.

"If a Soldier tells me he's tired of being an E-3 when everyone around him is getting promoted, I've been there," she said. "I tell them, 'You will make it through. You just have to keep trying. Just hang in there and keep fighting.'"