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(Photo courtesy Samantha Szesciorka)

By Caitlin M. Kenney

Undertaking life’s challenges, and especially when serving one’s country — from PCSing to a new country to covering combat– can seem daunting. But Samantha Szesciorka has always gravitated to adventure, getting her first taste as a military child and then by becoming a U.S. soldier.

When she joined the Army, she chose to be a videographer because it seemed to be the most exciting and “that I thought might get me a good opportunity to get out and have a lot of variety in what I did.”

“And it was the best decision I could have ever made was going into public affairs. It transformed my life.”

Samantha’s public affairs career took her to the American Forces Network at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, and then later deployed to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, covering military operations and humanitarian missions.

“I felt like I was documenting history as it unfolded,” she said of her time in Iraq.

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(Photo courtesy Samantha Szesciorka)

Iraq at the time was in the middle of a civil war and the U.S. had sent in a surge of troops in an attempt to curb the violence.

“I was honored to be there, though it was often difficult to be there,” she said.

Being in a war zone not just as a soldier but also as a broadcaster “is a weird way of feeling like you’re sort of there but you’re also removed from what’s happening,” she said, “because you’re behind this lens of the camera. Though of course I still had a rifle.”

Samantha would meet up with units located north of Baghdad and tag along with them on their missions. Every day was different.

“It was scary, often, but again I think I really felt like I was doing a very important job of telling these stories of what other soldiers were doing and what was happening with the local nationals.”

Her stories covering of the lives of local Iraqis and talking with them about what was happening, are what she remembers the most. When talking with them, Samantha said she “wanted so badly to make a connection with them and leave them with a good taste in their mouths, so to speak, of their experiences with Americans.”

“I often think back on the people that I met there, the local people, and wonder what they’re doing and how their lives are now,” she said.

Eventually Samantha was ready for a new challenge, and decided to tackle the civilian work force again. She moved to Reno, Nevada to be a news producer at a local TV station and also went back to school on the GI Bill. Going from a soldier broadcaster to a civilian journalist was weird, she said.

The transition “I wouldn’t say was terribly difficult but there certainly is a transition process of adjusting to life back in the civilian world and leaving the military,” Samantha said. “In a way I was surprised actually at how much I missed the military once I was gone.”

She also felt that she had changed and it was “hard to at first maybe reintegrate with civilians as well.”

“Especially going back to school, where I of course felt like I was so much older than most of the traditional students and then my life experiences had been so different already. And I found that to be a little difficult, but of course I stuck with it and finished.”

After graduating with a history degree and several years at the local station, she realized local news didn’t live up to the excitement as her time reporting on the military did. Samantha decided to jump into a new career by becoming a museum curator.

“I think it’s growing up with the military and the constant change. My whole life, there’s just always something new. Every couple of years was a whole new life,” she said of deciding to change careers.

“That experience really foundationally shaped who I am and has sort of made me crave that new experience feeling,” she added. “So I was very excited to move to a whole new career path.”

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(Photo courtesy Samantha Szesciorka)

And just as she has always been open to new challenges, Samantha’s love for riding horses had been with her most of her life. Being in the military, she said, “really pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a good way, in a way that sort of challenged and helped me better myself and also understand myself better.”

So when she got out and wanted to be challenged again, she decided to plan a long distance horseback riding journey.

In 2013 she undertook her first Nevada Discover Ride, riding about 500 miles solo across the state. The purpose of the ride was also to promote wild horse adoption. Even though it was physically and mentally challenging, Samantha loved it.

“I learned a lot. It was a huge adventure. And so I did it again this last year. I rode 1,100 miles all the way around Nevada that was three months of living on the trail and struggling every day. And I can’t stop. I’m already planning my next ride,” she said.

Samantha is now setting her sights on her next project in what she calls the culmination of her life’s work. She is combining her love of horses and journalism into a new niche magazine focused on Nevada’s equestrian community that will launch in spring of 2018.

“I’m really excited to delve into this project.”

And for veterans who are struggling for direction in their transition or looking for their next adventure, Samantha has some advice.

“We can do whatever we want to do. Just do it,” she said. “I just never want to stop myself. And I would hope that other people can somehow find that adventurous spirit to just say ‘yes’ and try anything.”

In partnership with the Service Women’s Action Network, we are featuring an inspiring woman veteran each month. Check out our last featured veteran: U.S. Army veteran Julienne Denecke.

Connect: @CaitlinMKenney | Caitlin@ConnectingVets.com

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