Where Resiliency is Tested

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Three of our alumni in the military talk about their lives in a most demanding job

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

MURPHY PFOHMAN ’08

U.S. Military Academy, West Point 
Murphy Pfohman made a decision in her senior year that set her apart from her peers and on the road to an extreme of rigorous training and a changed life. She applied to— and was accepted by—the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There she has been tested to her limits, and has discovered great reserves of resiliency and strength.
 
Murphy’s biggest shock came during “Beast Barracks,” the first seven weeks of basic training. The first day was brutal, with people yelling constantly at her and her fellow cadets, demanding they do things they didn’t know how to do. The second day, Murphy woke up to the 5:10 a.m. whistle thinking, “What am I doing? Why didn’t I do better research on this? I wanted to tell the squad leader that I want to go home, but I was too scared. Then I told myself I could do it,” she says.
 
“I focused my mind. I broke my day down a little bit at a time, until the chunks of time got bigger. I could do the next 30 seconds, and then the next 10 minutes, then the next hour and a half, then the next four weeks. It always ended up being way better than I thought, and I built confidence,” says Murphy. “Part of the reason I hung in was what my family instilled in me: I never quit anything without serious thought,” she says.
 
Murphy is now a senior at West Point. After her years of intensive preparation in Army life and increasingly responsible leadership positions, she intends to serve as an officer in military intelligence after graduating and attending the basic officer leader course. Intelligence appeals to her because of its cerebral qualities, and because all her teachers in the discipline were very much like her—calm, organized, and smart. “I have learned a ton about leadership. But the best thing about West Point is the people, and that’s the reason I stay here,” she says. “They all want to serve their country. Everyone has the best intentions and wants to do the best they can.” “At Catlin Gabel, when I told people I was going to West Point, they thought it was very out of the box, but they were supportive,” says Murphy. “I’m positive about my future.”
 

RUPERT DALLAS ’97

Former U.S. Marine Corps
Rupert Dallas joined the military right after his time at Catlin Gabel, enlisting in the Marine Corps and leaving for boot camp only 30 days after graduation. “Catlin Gabel prepared me to be a critical thinker, to rely on my reason and intellect. Being well educated was a gift, and I was happy to take it with me through my experience in the Marines,” he says.
 
His work in the Marines entailed risky and dangerous missions, and Rupert found strength in his dedication to the Marines’ mission, and to the people at his side. “Facing danger was not easy,” Rupert says. “Training only gets you prepared to do what is necessary, but the belief in what you are doing and the trust you have to put in the Marines who are with you will help you carry on, even when faced with the most dire of situations.”
 
“Learning quickly is key to survival,” Rupert says about the lessons he took from his time in the Corps. During his time with the Marines, Rupert developed profound convictions. “The courage of those who took the oath before me and those who took the oath with me was and always will be inspiring. I learned that some bonds can never be broken if they are tempered through sweat and tears,” he says. “I learned that by looking a person in the eyes when they give you their word, I can measure the character of that person. I learned that to protect my family and those who I love, I was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, and I would do it again if asked. I take with me so many lessons learned and I use them every day.”
 
From 2002 to 2008 Rupert worked while he attended college, earning a BS in urban development from Portland State University and an MBA in management from George Fox University. It was difficult to do both at once, but Rupert says that the degrees have been invaluable to propel his professional life forward. After holding positions at Coca Cola and ECOS Consulting, he now works as client service director at Ecova, an energy and sustainability management company. “I believe that what I learned at Catlin Gabel academically and the life experiences I gained in the Marines are the foundation on which I live my life today,” he says.
 

SANSARAE PICKETT ’01

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Sansarae Pickett went straight from Catlin Gabel to the U.S. Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, then attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Her first tour was on the USS Whidbey Island, where she learned the foundations of naval leadership. After deploying to the Mediterranean, she was promoted to Surface Warfare Officer, having mastered, among many topics, seamanship skills and knowledge of weaponry and equipment on warfare ships.
 
Sansarae’s naval career has taken her off the coast of Somalia and to Bahrain. Today she is back at the U.S. Naval Academy, coordinating the visits of outside groups for events such as reunions and visits from foreign military delegations.
 
As a new officer Sansarae was much younger than many of the sailors and Marines she led on the USS Whidbey Island. She had to communicate the expectations of the commanding officer to her many charges and ensure the quality of their work. At the same time she was completely dependent on their engineering and maintenance expertise—and responsible for making sure they kept their lives in balance. “With attention to detail, and much trial and error, I soon gained the trust and respect of my sailors by being honest, remaining a superior, and not allowing myself to become a ‘friend’ to those who I worked and lived alongside every single day—no easy task in itself!”
 
Sansarae says her resiliency comes from her sense of integrity and responsibility, which her parents taught her. “Maintaining my personal sense of integrity has never failed me,” she says. “There were many nights in the pilot house of my ship with not a single object to look out for, and for five hours at a time I would stand on my feet guiding the ship to its next destination. I didn’t feel that I was any less happy with my responsibilities living a ‘Groundhog Day’ lifestyle. I knew I was doing something in support of an entity much larger than myself.”
 
Sansarae married Marine Buki Aghaji in November, and is now expecting their first child. She plans to transfer to the Naval Reserves to have more shore time to spend with her new family. “I would like to still be afforded the opportunity to serve my country, and advance as a proud officer in the Navy,” she says.
 

Nadine Fiedler is the editor of the Caller and Catlin Gabel's director of publications and public relations.