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Around The Fleet

Up For The Challenge

How one Marine Transitioned from Aerial Navigation to Navy Nursing

Ensign Shauna Ralston, a labor and delivery nurse with the Women and Children's Department at Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla., loves challenges. Why else would a straight "A" student with a full scholarship decide to enlist in the United States Marine Corps?

Navy Photo

Ensign Shauna Ralston, a labor and delivery nurse with the Women and Children’s Department, Naval Hospital Pensacola, was an aerial navigator in the Marine Corps before deciding to become a Navy nurse. Ralston used the Medical Enlistment Commissioning Program to earn a nursing degree. (U.S. Navy photo by Jason J. Bortz/Released)

Growing up in Milton, Fla., Ralston was very active in sports and had planned on a career in physical therapy. Her father had served in the Marine Corps, but it was her sister that inspired her to pursue being a Marine.

"My sister was in the Marine Corps, and her stories about the challenges of boot camp intrigued me," said Ralston. "I thought I could do [boot camp]."

After attending her sister's boot camp graduation at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Ralston decided to speak to a recruiter. Her plan was to enlist in the Marine Corps and take a few years to decide if physical therapy was a career she still wanted. She just had to find a way to tell her parents that she was turning down a full scholarship to South Alabama University to be a Marine.

"I prayed about it and said if it's the right decision, my parents will support me," said Ralston. "And they were super supportive."

Ralston enlisted to be an aerial navigator because her recruiter told her it would be hard and she would get to travel, which, for someone who spent her entire life in the small town of Milton, was very exciting. As part of the air crew on a KC-130 Hercules air transport aircraft, Ralston did get to travel.

"I traveled to Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Djibouti, Canada, Bahrain, Hawaii, Guam....," said Ralston, who also participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After eight years as an aerial navigator, Ralston learned that her military occupational specialty in the Marine Corps was to be removed and that her future in the Marine Corps was uncertain. Having already decided that she didn't want to be a Marine Corps officer, she began thinking again of going to college to study physical therapy, but her husband pushed her to look for an option that would capitalize on her time in the Marine Corps. It was then that Ralston heard about the Medical Enlistment Commissioning Program that would allow her to remain on active duty while earning a nursing degree.

Upon being accepted for the program, Staff Sgt. Ralston attended the University of West Florida to earn her bachelor's degree in nursing.

"[School] was a challenge, but I loved it," said Ralston, who earned the Marine Corps rank of gunnery sergeant before graduating. "It was hard attending school as a 30-year-old with 19- and 20-year-olds, but I set a goal to get straight A's and I did."

Since reporting to Naval Hospital Pensacola last year, Ralston has adapted to life as a Navy officer and as a nurse, but she said it has not always been easy.

"[As an aerial navigator], I had a checklist that I just had to follow, but as a nurse, every patient is different," said Ralston, who someday hopes to be a professional educator. "There is no such thing as a typical day as a nurse."

Though it usually surprises her patients and peers when they find out she was a Marine, they are quick to point out the quality nursing care that Ralston provides.

"She is very thorough and meticulous," said Lt. Mohneke Broughton, the division officer in the Women and Children's Department. "She always goes above and beyond what is expected, and she always wants to educate the patients and staff. She has handled the transition [from Marine Corps] to the Navy well."

Ralston has never backed down from a challenge, but instead faces them, which is a characteristic often shared by Marines and nurses.

"I loved being a Marine, but I love being a nurse," said Ralston. "Instead of having Marines I'm responsible for, I have patients."