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“Average” hero: The untold story of a miltary soldier

Brandon Ray and his daughter Allie, pictured at age two. “That’s sort of the nature with sacrifice,” Ray said. “It helps you appreciate all the things you have all the more.”
“There’s a saying in the Military: ‘if you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late, and if you’re late, you might as well not show up at all,’” said former Navy Junior Officer Brandon Ray.
While at sea, Ray was in charge of observing operations in the nuclear reactor, piloting the submarine, and training and mentoring his fellow crew members to be senior sailors. His days ran on 18-hour cycles: 6 hours of watch, 6 hours of administration training and work, and 6 hours to eat, workout, shower and sleep.
He was deployed for six months at a time, traveling anywhere from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean and Indian oceans. He spent a total of three years at sea and four years conducting on shore assignments.
“The Navy is not as glamorous as it may often be portrayed,” said Ray. “It’s also not captured accurately in the movies where there’s this constant need to sell dramatic moments. For the most part, we’re doing normal day-to-day activities. Typically, very little drama happens.”
Americans view the Navy as the least prestigious military branch, according to a Gallup poll. Twenty-six percent of Americans say the army is the most important to national defense, followed closely by the Air Force with 23 percent. The Marine Corp places third with 19 percent, followed by the Navy with 17 percent.
The shift in perception occurred when the U.S. first became involved in the Iraq war, according to Gallup. Despite Navy SEALS raids that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 and the rescue of Captain Richard Philips, which inspired the movie “Captain Phillips,” the Navy’s image did not improve.
“I have friends who served in the Army and Marine Corps who I think are “true veterans” in comparison to myself, because I value their sacrifices higher than my own,” said Ray. “However, they would fully admit that they say the same about me, in that they would never agree to go below water in a vessel.”
The ideal way to break down these misconceptions is to help people realize the mission of each military branch and how they support one another, said Ray. Although the job varies within each branch, the overall purpose is the same: to serve and protect our country. There are a lot of defense activities that people don’t know about, or simply take for granted, he added. This shouldn’t be the case.
Joining the Navy
Ray was fresh out of college, working as a fifth grade math and science teacher at a local elementary school in New Jersey when he contemplated doing something else with his life. It wasn’t until his roommate told him she was joining the army that he began considering the military as a viable career option.
“Nothing I found was speaking to me,” he said. “Yet, I still felt this need to give back to the public.”
In 2006, 22-year-old Ray joined the Navy and began his training soon after. It gave him the stability he was searching for.
About six percent of all Navy personnel serve on submarines, representing some of the most highly trained and skilled people in the Navy. Training is highly technical, with each crew member expected to know how to operate, maintain, and repair every system of equipment on board.
“My fondest memory was when my wife finally let me put her wedding ring on for the first time,” said Ray. “I had been so busy with the Navy that we never had the time for a formal ceremony. It was a special moment and made us realize that life happens and that things sometimes get in the way, but we can still make the best of our time together.”
Life after the Navy
“In the Navy you get used to a certain way of living and that sort of stays with you to a certain extent,” Ray said. “So much that when I first got out I felt a little lost. I didn’t necessarily feel like I could fit in until I saw how other people were adjusting and going through the same transition I was going through.”
Ray served seven active years in the Navy. Now, he is part of the Navy Reserve, where he contributes to Navy operations part-time while pursuing an Atmospheric Sciences degree at the University of Washington (UW). This is his first time back in school after being out for almost 10 years. He thanks the UW Veteran Community for helping make his transition into “normal” society easier.
“Although it’s always nice to be recognized for your service, that’s not what we’re constantly striving for as veterans,” said Ray. “I have friends who’ve come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with a host of medical and emotional issues. We’re all just trying to readjust to “normal” society and fit in as much as possible.”
Today, there are over 1 million military reserve personnel and 21.8 million veterans – many who are still trying to adjust to life outside of the military.
“Life is a learning experience,” said Ray. “Each experience will lead you to whatever it is you want to be doing down the road. The important thing is to make sure you’re getting the most out of what you’re doing everyday.”

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