Commissioner Sean M. Connolly began his service with the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs on March 16, 2015 and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Commissioner Connolly served on active duty for more than seven years and in a variety of positions. A Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Connolly was a Prosecutor and Brigade Legal Advisor with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as well as in Kuwait and Iraq. He also previously served as Assistant Legal Advisor and Executive Officer for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Appointing Authority for Military Commissions. His military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. He is also entitled to wear the Air Assault Badge and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge.
- Did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
Public and community Service has been a passion of mine for many years. As far back as East Hartford High School I served on the Student Council and as a member of the Hornet Team visiting local elementary schools to mentor children and also worked with local senior citizens for our annual “Senior Prom.” Service continued during my time at Bryant University as a Student Senator, Vice President of the Student Senate, and class Chairman. I brought the “Senior Prom” idea from East Hartford to Bryant and my service was cemented in receiving an Army ROTC Scholarship and joining the Program culminating in my commission as a Second Lieutenant.
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
As a student leader in college, I was looking for another opportunity to serve. Love of country and wanting to give back to our Nation that had given my family so much, I pursued military science and Army ROTC. I was inspired by the service of Soldiers I met, applied for an Army ROTC scholarship, and became a cadet. Following my commissioning as an Army Officer, I went on to law school at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. After graduating and passing the Connecticut Bar, I began my active duty service in the Army with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and then deployed to Kuwait, and Iraq. After serving in Iraq in 2003, I was reassigned to the Pentagon and finished seven-plus years of active duty in Washington, D.C. in 2007. I have continued my military service in the Army Reserve and last week graduated from the U.S. Army War College with a Master’s in Strategic Studies. While in the Reserve, I first joined an international law firm, Greenberg Traurig LLP, in the Washington, D.C. Office. I later chose to return home to Connecticut and joined Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, first as an Assistant Counsel, and later as Pratt & Whitney’s Global Ethics & Compliance Officer. In 2015, I was honored to be appointed Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Veterans Affairs serving Connecticut’s 200,000-plus Veterans.
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
The key is maintaining balance and at times taking a moment to pause, regroup, and going back to overcome the bumps in the road. My inspiration comes from my parents. My father immigrated to America from Ireland with basically only the shirt on his back. When faced with adversity, he worked through the challenges, kept balance in his life and focused on the goal of achieving a better life for his family. He and my mother, a daughter of Irish immigrants, sacrificed throughout their lives for me and my brother and sisters and I inherited from them the grit and determination to keep plugging.
Over the last two years while serving as Commissioner, continuing my Reserve duty I was also working on a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies in the U.S. Army War College’s Distance Education Program. While not required it was the next level of Professional Military Education in my Army Reserve Career and it took significant time away from my family. There were certainly days when I asked myself whether what I was doing was worth it. But with the love and support of my wife, Carol, and my boys, Sean and Brendan, I made it through the challenge and in the end it was worth the sacrifice as it has enriched my critical thinking and strategic leadership capabilities.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
Of course, my parents, Michael and Kathleen Connolly, laid a strong foundation on which I could build. As I mentioned, they sacrificed so that we could get a good education. After that, it’s the support of my wife and children and good, old-fashioned hard work, perseverance, determination, and luck. I’ve been fortunate to have so many great mentors in my life at various stages who set an example for me and who supported me. I don’t believe anyone can do it alone. It takes collaboration to be successful which is how I lead at the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s a partnership with Veteran Service Organizations, sister state agencies, nonprofit organizations and our elective officials that move us toward excellence.
- What do teens need today more than anything else?
In a nation today in which less than one percent of Americans serve in our armed forces or other service organizations including the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, young Americans need to become engaged in selfless service and when necessary sacrifice for the betterment of our Nation. How long can less than one percent shoulder the burden for the other 99-plus percent of Americans? We have to find ways for young Americans to give back to the Community, whether in the military or other public service organization. This not only helps the Nation but those who serve learn dedication, teamwork, and leadership that will set them up for success for the rest of their lives and make our communities stronger and elevate our nation for a brighter future.
- What would you tell a teen who was struggling?
I would tell them to find a mentor or two, leaders engaged in public or community service who they can learn from and emulate. I would also say to never give up and never be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to be the smartest or even most talented teen to succeed or rise above the pack. If you have grit, perseverance, and passion for what you are doing, you will get there.
- What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
I have the tremendous honor and privilege of serving 200,000-plus of Connecticut’s finest, our men and women who served our Nation in uniform as their Commissioner. Honoring those who continued a long tradition of selfless service, courage, devotion to duty, and sacrifice has been a highlight of my career. No matter what I do next, I hope that being able to serve our Veterans will continue to be part of my life.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
I’m blessed with a wonderful family. My wife, Carol, and I met in law school and have been married almost 17 years. We have two very active boys. Sean is 11 and Brendan is 8 and we have a rescue dog, Lucky! While our lives can be very hectic at times, we always try to find the positive momentum and make the most of the freedom and opportunities we’ve been given through the selfless service and sacrifice of so many of our women and men in uniform.
- How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your time Sean and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!