Military moxie: Disabled vet reaches out
With her trademark red lipstick, Merritt Allen easily crushes the disabled veteran stereotype.
But Allen's military-like determination is plain to see. In the U.S. Navy, she worked at the Pentagon and faced a life-changing disability. Now she's running a business that is gaining a national presence.
Vox Optima is a full-service communications and public relations business staffed by former senior military and active military reserve public affairs professionals.
This year, the New Mexico Small Business Administration named Allen the 2007 Veteran Small Business Champion because of her commitment to working with other veterans.
"It just made sense to us because these are the people we know and trust in business, and it turned out to be either veteran-owned or woman-owned businesses," Allen said.
Her father was a career Marine before he retired and took a mining job in Silver City, N.M., where Allen and her three older siblings were raised. Their mother, State Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, did a morning radio talk show twice daily at the time.
It was somewhat of a family affair. Allen's sister was the manager at the other radio station in town, and from the age of 14, Allen ran the automated weekend programming.
"My mother is the type of person where, if she thinks you can do it, you think you can too," Allen said.
While attending college at Notre Dame on ROTC and National Merit scholarships, Allen became the news director of the campus public radio station, enlisted in the challenging Marine Corps ROTC program and majored in engineering.
"Considering my varsity sport in high school was the dance team, that should have tipped me off that I was not well-suited to be a Marine," Allen said.
After nearly flunking out of school, Allen switched to the Navy's ROTC program.
She spent her summers on a four-week cruise at sea for training, and the rest of the time working at a small radio station.
Allen graduated from Notre Dame in 1991 with an economics degree.
"On the off chance something didn't go right with ROTC, I wanted to make sure I had a degree I could get a job with as a 21-year-old," Allen said.
She became a general line officer, meaning she would do office jobs. She was assigned to be the assistant weapons officer at a naval base in the Philippines.
"The day that I was supposed to fly out of L.A. on my military flight to get to the Philippines, Mount Pinatubo blew," Allen said.
Her arrival was delayed for three weeks. As it turned out, the public affairs officer there had transferred, and when Allen's commanding officer found out about her radio background, she was assigned the job.
Before she knew it, military movers had infiltrated her dorm room to pack her up and move her across the ocean to the Philippines.
"There were just so many days I grew up 10 years in five minutes," Allen said.
Enjoying her job, she continued working in public affairs. Allen career eventually took her to work at the Pentagon, where she worked 60 to 80 hours weekly handling national issues.
Friday, May 2, 2008, Face of Business
New Mexico Business Weekly - by Lorinda Toledo NMBW Intern