Local Lives - Jodi Slinkard

Jodi Slinkard has seen it all, from the bright lights of San Antonio all the way to the icy blue waters of the Cook Inlet in Alaska. Slinkard was born in 1976 in Ionia, Mich., but was raised in Hesperia. Hesperia is where her father grew up and where he wanted to raise his own children. So, Slinkard spent her childhood right here on the west shore of Michigan, graduating from Hesperia High School in 1994.

After her graduation, Slinkard spent a year working in adult education at Hesperia Community Schools and at the Shelby State Bank. She always knew she wanted to go into the military. “I have a lot of family members, and still do, that are veterans,” she said. “Growing up it was a part of who I was.” As someone who was stagnant in a small town her whole life, she wanted to do something for the greater good.

“The way I enlisted in the Air Force is actually a funny story,” Slinkard said. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to enlist in the Air Force or the Navy. So, she headed down to the recruitment office and asked two of the recruiters to race in the parking lot. One would represent the Air Force and the other would represent the Navy. The two gave it their all, and the Air Force ultimately won. This ended up being a good thing as Slinkard wanted to go into something medical and she met all the requirements for that position within the Air Force. She did have to wait a year, however, for her desired position to open up. Eventually she entered the Air Force in October 1995.

She attended boot camp training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. She started as a dental tech and received more training along the way. After training, she was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas before being deployed to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. She served as a medic there, as well as a dental and surgery technician.

Later, Slinkard was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base where she split her working time between the air force base and the Pentagon. She had many experiences working at the Pentagon, some exciting and others traumatic. She was working there on 9/11 when terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the building. While she was not outwardly harmed, she lost many friends that day.

Not all of her experiences at the Pentagon were dismal, though. She served as part of the Presidential Honor Guard and she was present at former President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. “Working at the Pentagon humbles you a little bit,” she said.

After being deployed on three humanitarian missions to small Alaskan villages, Slinkard was eventually stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. While there, she had many positive experiences. She received extra training in dental and medical, she went on a polar bear hunt with Alaskan natives, which was a “very cool experience,” and in 2004 she was honorably discharged from the Air Force after serving for nine years.

She settled in Alaska after being discharged, married and had three children. She worked in a medical office there until 2009 when she decided to move back to Hesperia with her children. She made the move because she loves and appreciates Oceana County and wanted to be close to her family again.

Ultimately, she settled in Fremont and while there, she went to the Newaygo County veterans service officer for help. The office ended up hiring her as a part-time veterans service officer for the county where she worked for quite a few years. She also worked for the Michigan’s Veterans Trust Fund Board for five years.

In June 2020 she remarried and in December 2021 the position of full-time veterans service officer opened up in Oceana County. “I wanted to fill it because it’s where my heart is,” she said. Many of her family members, veteran friends and neighbors live in Oceana County and she wanted to be close to them again. She got the job and now plans to move to Hart after her children graduate from high school.

As a veterans service officer, she helps veterans with paperwork, housing, finances and much more. Slinkard said her medical background has made her a very good VSO as she helps veterans find proper healthcare. “I do a lot of things in terms of assisting veterans…it’s all encompassing,” she said.

As Slinkard reflects on Memorial Day, her plans were different than years past. Usually she would speak at a local service, however this was a very hard year for her as a couple of friends she was deployed with committed suicide.

“Veteran suicide is a big passion of mine,” she said. Unfortunately it is rather common, with 22 veterans committing suicide each day. Slinkard works with community health organizations to provide resources for veterans in order to decrease the frequency of veteran suicides.

As an outdoor advocate, Slinkard spent Memorial Day completing a long hike in honor of her friends.

“Memorial Day to me is a remembrance of a devotion to our country and everyone lost in all wars fought for our country and our freedom…It’s not an honor to veterans, it’s an honor to lives lost. It’s important to honor those service members who lost their lives.”