Albany event honors women in military service

18 Jun 2009 | Pamela Jackson

Darton College’s quarterly Professional Women’s Forum hosted their first annual Salute to Military Women June 3. 

Two women from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., Navy Capt. Patricia Underdahl, Navy reservist and Naval Branch Health Clinic nurse and 2nd Lt. Sarah Ray, adjutant, were invited to share their experiences in the military. 

Capt. Underdahl

Underdahl said, “Next month I will reach 31 years with the Navy.  My parents were both active duty Navy and met during World War II.  I graduated in 1978 from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and began studying for my state board exam in nursing.  After taking the exam, I joined the Navy to gain some experience and leave home.  I loved their uniforms and after researching the Navy, I found that their bases were located all along the coastal areas.” 

Underdahl joked about all the things she learned after joining such as physical training, room and uniform inspections and more PT because she failed it earlier. 

“Despite my failures, I really enjoyed the routine of the Navy and I lost 20 pounds, thanks to all of the double PT I had to do.

“Two days after I got to Camp Pendleton, Calif., I met my then future husband who was an active duty Marine officer.  We married two years later and that was 29 years ago.  We had some difficulties being in different active branches of services, but she said jokingly, “The Navy takes care of the Marine Corps,” Underdahl said.

Underdahl said that after her husband was deployed with the Army while stationed in Okinawa, Japan, she asked for, but did not receive an immediate transfer there.

 “I had a senior nurse who told me when I got there, that if the Navy wanted me to have a husband, they would have ‘issued’ him to me.  We finally got past that and had two babies while there, but I had help,” she said.

“Eventually, we transferred to Charleston, S.C., where my husband worked at the Citadel and I worked for the local hospital.  The hardest part of being military, especially dual military, is the constant uprooting and moving.  In Charleston, we did not have the support base yet, so after two weeks there, the children both had chicken pox and the baby sitter did not show.  I decided that day that I could not give 100 percent to the Navy and 100 percent to my family, so I requested a transfer to the reserves,” Underdahl said.

 “My senior nurse called me in and said, “Lt. Underdahl, you will not be able to make it in the military on active duty or in the reserves because you don’t seem to have what it takes to be a leader,” she said. “Now, 23 years later, I have reached the rank of Captain and I have had many great experiences in the Navy, including commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., from October 2005 to December 2007, where I was responsible for more than 800 Navy and civilian personnel.”

2nd Lt. Ray

Ray shared her experiences and the hardship of growing up with parents who were both Marines. 

Ray joked about her parents’ short dating period as Marines before they got   married two months after meeting. 

“My mother chose to get out of the military after becoming pregnant two years later to raise her children, and my dad stayed in until he retired.  Statistically, they should not have stayed together that long, but just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a European cruise.”

She told the crowd that, “Growing up, I had this great example of what a military career looked like.  It was not easy because my father was not there much.  We moved 16 times to 10 different states and I attended 13 different schools.  I have been many places, met many people and lost many friends.”

Ray continued, “I decided in high school to never go in the military.  Whoops! But, everything changed for me on September 11, 2001.  When the twin towers went down, I decided I needed to stop being selfish and do something.  I wanted to take vengeance on those responsible, so I decided to go in the military as an enlisted Marine.  When my parents found out I had joined the Marine Corps, they asked was I really sure I wanted to be a Marine.  I told them if I was going in the military, I was really going in the military – no offense to the other services represented here.”

On April 22, 2002, Ray stood on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.  She has been in the military for seven years and had never been deployed after asking many times to go, which is why she joined.

“I decided I needed to change policy and applied to the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program and was accepted.  I then went to another unit that was non-deployable.  I wanted to change policy so that other women could be augmented if they were in the same situation.  Choosing to become an officer was one of the best decisions I ever made.   Getting to this point allowed me to see that the Marine Corps is number one in the area of women’s equality.  They will make you equal on every level,” Ray said.

After sharing a few more stories and laughs, Ray ended by saying, “Serving alongside the men and women in the Corps is what keeps me going.  I’m here for as long as it takes to accomplish the mission.  Does anyone want to join now?”

Nearly 100 women and vendors were in attendance for this event. 

Sherrell Byrd, annual giving officer, Albany State University, said, “I was so very honored to be in the presence of such extraordinary women.  Hearing their stories of triumph and heroism, overcoming the odds, making tough choices as it relates to family and home, and breaking down barriers, left me so inspired.  I always have had a deep admiration for the men and women of the Armed Forces, but to hear those personal accounts of women in the Armed Forces just made me appreciate them that much more.” 

Those same sentiments were echoed by several women in attendance.

Beth Nielsen-Smith, coordinator of the professional women’s forum said, “Wow... Second Lieutenant Ray is nothing short of amazing, and a true American hero!  Not only is she a dynamic speaker, but is selfless in her service to our country and a true inspiration to women.  As the total package, she is a perfect representative of MCLB, women in the military, and the U. S. Marine Corps!”

Smith continued, “What is most remarkable about Captain Underdahl and Lieutenant Ray is that both of these ladies are truly selfless leaders and true Americans and an inspiration for women.  I was amazed at the level of responsibility they have and they do so gracefully.  I was honored, inspired and in awe of these women and their accomplishments.  I wish there were more young women (of high school and college age) there to hear their stories,” she said.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany