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Lt. Cmdr. Susan Murphy of Modesto, Calif., administers a flu shot to James Meggison aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford.
Lt. Cmdr. Susan Murphy of Modesto, Calif., administers a flu shot to James Meggison aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford. (Adonica Munoz, U.S. Navy)

(Tribune News Service) — Susan Murphy rose from a troubled childhood in Modesto to become a nurse and officer aboard an aircraft carrier.

She is a lieutenant commander on the USS Gerald R. Ford, in port for maintenance at the moment in Newport News, Va. She enlisted at 17 and has now served for nearly 18 years.

Murphy told her story, including a bout of homelessness at 16, in a news release written by Seaman Apprentice Manvir Gill. It came from the Navy Office of Community Outreach, which said in an email that its mission is “to travel the globe to collect sailors’ stories.”

Murphy has an especially compelling one, including a father and brother who struggled with mental illness. She does not identify her family members in the release.

Murphy said her parents divorced because of the stress of her brother’s violent behavior. Her mother then married a man who was violent to his step-daughter.

Murphy said she hung out with the wrong friends as a teen. She remembers thinking, “I’m going to be addicted to drugs, pregnant at a young age, or my life is going to go nowhere.”

All of this led to Murphy becoming homeless at 16. “A lot of people look at me and they say, ‘How did you end up homeless?’ It just comes and you can’t believe that it’s happening to you.”

Murphy decided to join the military to start turning her life around. She enlisted in February 2004 as a deck seaman, with the goal of becoming a corpsman, part of the Navy’s health care ranks.

Murphy was serving at the naval hospital in Bremerton, Wash., when she saw intensive-care nurses at work. She decided to become one, and to also enter the officer ranks through the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program.

Her first assignment, however, was to a mental health unit rather than the ICU.

“I was so discouraged by that, but it happened to be a great experience being in the psych unit,” she said. “I learned invaluable skills that I continue to use as a nurse today.”

The USS Ford has about 3,700 service members on board, and Murphy is its chief nurse. She said her favorite part of the job is watching a hospital corpsman learn how to provide emergency care to a fellow sailor.

“Getting people back to their families is my job,” she said. “I’m a sixth-generation nurse; it’s in my DNA. I care so much and I hope that’s evident in how hard I work here and how hard I’ve worked everywhere else.”

(c)2021 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

Visit The Modesto Bee at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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