Honoring the Brave: Rio Salado College Student and U.S. Navy Veteran Wen Clayton


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Thursday, November 4, 2021
photos of Rio Salado College Veteran student Wen Clayton. Text: Honoring the Brave: Rio Salado Student and U.S. Navy Veteran Wen

Honoring the Brave: Rio Salado College Student and U.S. Navy Veteran Wen Clayton

Sometimes months become years and years become decades. But when a goal is achieved, just as U.S. Navy veteran Wendell Clayton discovered, it’s well worth the time.

Clayton served in the Navy from 1980 to 1982 during the Gulf of Sidra Incident as a member of the VAW-125 which is an Airborne Early Warning Squadron. He deployed on the USS Forrestal CV-59, which, Clayton said, “had a nickname of the forest fire because of a catastrophic fire on the ship in July of 1967.”

Following his service, he sought higher education and enrolled in Rio Salado College’s Chemical Dependency Counseling program, now known as the Addictions and Substance Abuse Disorders program. He obtained a Certificate in Chemical Dependency Counseling Level I in 1994. Though he desired further education, he was forced to stop.

“My program was interrupted at that time due to mental health issues and PTSD. I know that now but back then I had no clue. It certainly feels great today knowing about and managing my disorders in order to enjoy life in a way that was never possible before,” he said.

Fast forward 26 years to the fall of 2020. Clayton returned to Rio Salado from the comfort of his home in Ohio to put his plans back on track.

“Today, I can proudly say I attained that original goal,” to receive both Level I and Level II Certificates, he said, “as well as an AAS in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders, with honors I might add.”

Clayton completed his AAS in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders in Summer 2021. He hopes to reach future milestones in his educational journey – a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. For now, he maintains patience while he works through health and financial issues before taking those steps, knowing that time can work to his advantage as it has in the past. 

“It’s all good,” he said. “I can still help people and most importantly, help myself with all the skills and insights I have learned through lived experiences and accredited education.”

Clayton is a firm supporter of Rio Salado’s program and instructors and touts them to others.  

“Rio Salado creates access to their programs in a number of ways to help any student become successful,” he said. “I strongly support Rio Salado as a college with a personal touch whether you are in Phoenix or Dayton, Ohio. Responses from instructors to questions from students are prompt and thorough. It was a great experience for me.”

Dr. Kirk Bowden, Rio Salado College Faculty Chair of Addiction and Substance Use Disorder, praised Clayton for his accomplishments.

"Wendell Clayton showed great tenacity in completing his AAS in Addiction and Substance Use Disorders," Bowden said. "Many people in his situation would have given up. He should be very proud of himself. I am sure he will love working as an addiction counselor."

Bowden noted that addictions counseling can be a very rewarding career and related to Clayton's experience of reinventing himself.

"I understand how difficult it is to work full time while attending college. Prior to becoming an addiction counselor, I was a stockbroker," Bowden said. "I didn’t feel personally rewarded as a stockbroker. I was earning a living for myself and my family but I didn’t feel that I was helping people and making a positive impact on the world. I wanted to make a difference. I decided to change my life’s direction. In order to support my family, I continued working days in financial services and my evenings college at night."

"For me the sacrifices I made to become an addiction counselor were certainly worth the effort. I hope they are for Wendall, as well. I have now worked as an addiction counselor for more than 30 years. I have no regrets. I love my work. I feel that working as an addiction counselor can certainly have a positive impact on the lives of the people you serve. Addiction counseling may not be the highest paid profession, but there are certainly many personal rewards. Again I want to congratulate Wendell Clayton for his tenacity and his academic success."

Rio Salado joins the community this month in honoring our veterans and military families during Military Family Appreciation Month and Veterans Day. We wish to thank all those who sacrifice their time and service for the good of the country we call home.

To learn more about Rio Salado’s Military and Veteran Services department, check out this blog.

Learn more about Rio Salado's Addictions and Substance Abuse Disorders program.