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Female commander to head Legion post

Women have been associated with the U.S. Navy from as far
back as 1776, and have served aboard ships for more than a century, first as
nurses and now as admirals.

But until now, Camp Gordon Johnston Post 82 of the American
Legion has not had a woman command its ranks.

On Saturday evening, at the 2021-22 installation of officers
ceremony, followed by a celebration dinner, that all changed, when Navy veteran
Rachel Murphy became the post’s first female commander.

“I’m very excited to see what I can do for Post 82,” said
Murphy, in a Monday evening interview.

Murphy’s ascent to the top job began four years ago, when
she moved to Carrabelle from Cocoa Beach and became a Legionnaire for the first
time, after retiring from a career as a registered nurse.

She had relocated to be closer to her sister and husband, Vicki
and Gordie Harris, who have operated Shop by the Sea for the past

“I became very involved with the Legion right away and
became adjutant under Commander Tim Ryan and Bert Worthy,” she said.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Murphy joined the Navy in
1987, at the age of 27, and soon distinguished herself at a time when women
were beginning to increase their numbers in the enlisted ranks.

At her first duty school, the A school in Dam Neck,
Virginia, she graduated in the top three of her class as an operations
specialist, an academic distinction that immediately jumped her two ranks, from
an E-1 to an E-3.

From there she went to Puerto Rico to the Atlantic Fleet Weapons
Training Facility, where she would be an essential part of “mock war” exercises with
counterparts from other countries, such as Canada and Spain.

She served as watch supervisor, which placed her in charge
of all radar communications, identifying friend or foe, air traffic controls,
and monitoring surface-air and sub-surface activity.

Murphy was in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Hugo hit, and
assisted in restoration work. Her unit also worked closely with the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration, to catch drug smugglers coming up through
the Devil’s Triangle.

It was also during her stint in Puerto Rico she was nominated
for Military Woman of the Year honors for her outstanding service as watch supervisor,
a role that included an assignment as part of the security force, training with
the Marines.

“It was very interesting, it was definitely an adventure,”
Murphy said of her naval career.

After three years in the Caribbean, she was stationed on an ammunition
ship, the USNS Kilauea in The Philippines.

“It was very unusual for a woman to be assigned to an
ammunition ship,” she said, noting that because USNS ships combine both civilian
and military personnel, there were five women aboard.

Murphy said service as an operations specialist also had
fewer women, because one of their main duties was to be aboard a ship for a
greater proportion of their service than is the case with other specialties.

they do not assign women at that time to (sea),” she said. “It was unusual for women
to became an operations specialist.”

Ammunition ships are named after a volcano, and as it turned
out, Murphy was assigned to a unit on the Kilauea that helped out in the
aftermath of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, at which time she was assigned to an
aircraft carrier to help in evacuating families.

“We had tons of ash on the ship,” she said. “It was about
nine months before we could get underway.”

The USNS Kilauea then headed to Japan, Guam and Korea. After
five years in the Navy, she was discharged in 1992 in San Diego, California, after
which she used the benefits she had coming under the GI Bill to attend the University
of Central Florida and become a registered nurse.

She went on to work in various hospital roles, before
finishing her career doing critical care for hospice patients. “That was my
love,” she said.

Murphy said topping her agenda is to restore many of the
canceled or postponed events on the Post calendar that had to be put off due to

“I think we’re on the recovery,” she said. “I’m hoping to
have some to go forward every month, to bring the community back together.”

In her remarks Saturday, Murphy thanked Past Commander Tim
Bob Ryan for his two years of leadership. “He guided our members through those
initial uncertain months of the pandemic and played a major part in the 2020
renovations of the Post Lounge along with the ongoing management duties,” said.

In addition, she thanked the Legionnaires, Auxiliary, and
Sons. “I appreciate the ongoing assistance and dedication to Post 82 throughout
the year provided by the Auxiliary and Sons. These two units along with the
Post 82 Riders offer the much-needed behind the scenes support that helps keep Post
82 in operation and open for our veterans and community,” Murphy said.

“I am grateful to be a part of the Post 82 family and proud
to be elected as Post 82’s first female Commander. With their continued
support, I look forward to working with our Post 82 Units in the upcoming year
as we pick ourselves up from the pandemic recovery and bring the American
Legion Post 82 back to its full schedule of activities and events,” she said. 

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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