Clara Van Drunen (MBA, 2013) has stared down machine-gun-yielding militias, eaten boa constrictor and been inked by an octopus. Oh, and now she runs an urban winery.
For her, it’s all a very natural progression that began when she was the straight-A-earning, overachieving seventh of eight kids growing up in scenic West Virginia. She knew even then that she wanted to see and taste what the world had to offer. The Air Force was her entry point.
Now a retired E7 Master Sergeant, Van Drunen began her 20-year Air Force career in finance, “mainly because I wanted to travel, and there are different colors of money all around the planet,” she quips.
And travel she did. She lived on bases in Washington, D.C., Germany and Korea, and for the last six years of her Air Force career, she was on a special duty assignment for the U.S. Defense Attaché Office, working as a military liaison in American embassies in Cameroon and Madagascar. That’s where she ate boa constrictor. She also ate viper and porcupine. (“It’s a little rubbery,” she says of the latter.)
It's also where she cultivated a sense of connectedness with other human beings. “It was humbling to live in a Third World country,” she says. Madagascar, her last assignment before retiring, stands out. “There’s no electricity, no running water [where I was]. The people there were always smiling and generous to share whatever they had, which was very little,” she says.
At the end of her military service in 2006, Van Drunen had to figure out what to do with the smattering of college classes she had taken at various bases over the years. “It was hard to find a reputable school that would honor the collection of military credits and classes I’d already taken,” she says, noting that with University of Phoenix (UOPX) she found she could transfer her eligible credits.