MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., –
Janey Conerly grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. She was born into a family with two loving parents, who tirelessly worked to provide for Conerly, her older sister and her younger brother. She grew up playing sports and games with other children in her neighborhood, and her mom often described her as the social butterfly at school.
“Of course there were some rough times too within our family, but I focus on the positivity,” Conerly said. “Both my parents worked really hard to provide for my siblings and me. Growing up, my parents never displayed their struggles to us, but as we got older we started noticing… My parents made sure that we had, even if they had to go without.”
Conerly’s mother, Mae Alice, became pregnant with her first child, Conerly’s sister, at the age of 16. Despite their young age, Conerly’s father, Roy, knew that he loved Mae Alice, and they married. Even with this challenging beginning, Roy and Mae Alice were determined to create successful careers, so they started two businesses from scratch — one in transport and another in elderly care.
“They’ve always been the type to want to own their own business and be their own boss, and I know I get that mentality from them,” Conerly said.
Her parents set an example for Conerly to work hard, embrace strong family values and value her education. Being born into a minority, as Conerly describes it, was more of a blessing than a hindrance.
“My parents wanted us to be more diverse and look at the whole picture vice just the African American/ Black picture,” Conerly said. “Growing up in that very diverse setting and learning how to get along with all races shaped my world view, because it’s easy for me to see different perspectives and how everyone feels. It’s easy for me to listen and understand where they’re coming from.”
Conerly continued her education through her junior year of high school, when a Category 5 hurricane caused over 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage to New Orleans and the surrounding areas, including Conerly’s hometown.
“Katrina was scary,” Conerly said. “The only thing I remember was being without lights for like two weeks…It was hard to get gas. It was hard to get food. Everything was shut down. They had trees all over the place, water all over the place — floods — ditches flood, roads flood — everything. We had to travel for hours just to get gas or just to get a few groceries…We got through it. It was tough, but we got through it.”
When Conerly graduated from high school months later, she attended two different community colleges and got a job. She continued her education for one year until she grew tired of her school shutting down to continue rebuilding from the hurricane.
“I joined the Marine Corps because Hurricane Katrina ripped a lot of jobs and opportunities away,” Conerly said. “I wanted something that would challenge me — that would make me grow personally and professionally and surround me with good people who also wanted to grow. I got tired of being around people [in college or at work] who believed in nothing really or lived for nothing really, because my parents weren’t like that for a long shot.”
After graduating from recruit training in July 2007, Conerly became an administrative specialist and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. She said some traditions in the Marine Corps came easily to her, like using proper courtesies and taking pride in the way she looks and dresses because of how her parents raised her.
When she turned 23, Conerly’s life changed when she became pregnant. She gave birth to her daughter, Loghan Conerly, in August 2010 and assumed the responsibilities of single motherhood.
Despite enjoying the Marine Corps and the opportunities it offered, she made the difficult decision to end her active service in April 2011. At the time, her occupational specialty was closed to re-enlistment, and she did not want to laterally move into a different occupational specialty as a brand new mother.
Conerly moved back to Louisiana, but she was not ready to end her career in the Marine Corps, so she joined the Marine Corps Reserve. As a reservist, Conerly accepted active orders multiple times to perform active Marine Corps duties between the years of 2011 and 2016.
All the while, Conerly was maintaining her duty as the sole parent to her daughter.
“I have numerous challenges, but I would have to say my biggest challenge is being a single parent,” Conerly said. “It’s daunting. The struggles of being a single mom hit me bad...I don’t have the luxury of sharing the many, many jobs that two parents have, but it’s important for me to realize that being a single mom does not have to mean that I need to be alone in order to be successful.”
Conerly, with support from her family, friends and mentors, decided to accept long-term active orders in 2016, as she moved to Virginia and started work at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. Now a sergeant, Conerly works as a G-1 administrative clerk and the non-commissioned officer in charge of her section. She still communicates with her current and past Marine Corps leaders as well as mentors in her family for guidance.
“I have several mentors who have and still have been instrumental in guiding and sponsoring my career path,” Conerly said. “They’ve encouraged me to step up. They’ve pushed me to be the strongest version of my professional self. I’ve also looked at my mentors as a way to continue my education and broaden my view points. They teach me new ways to approach my responsibilities.”
Conerly said she also learns things like patience, understanding and discernment from her daughter, and she loves teaching and guiding her daughter every day.
“[My mom has taught me to be a] caring person, nice, not to be mean, be respectful and honest,” 10-year-old Loghan said.
Today, Conerly also reflects on her family upbringing as well as African American leaders from past and present who have inspired her, as she celebrates National African American History Month.
“Because of my race, and I also know the history of my race and what we had to go through, I do take pride in being Black/ African American,” Conerly said. “I take pride in all the changes that the ones before me fought for…I take pride in us being us. I take pride in setting the example, being a Black/ African American woman — being a strong, educated woman for the little ones underneath me. I take pride in everything I do that comes with being Black/ African American. And that’s just because of the ones before me — the amount of work and the challenge that they endured for me to be able to live African American/ Black.”