FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 12, 2022) Teachers and Soldiers have many traits in common.
Both serve something bigger than themselves. Both coach, train, mentor, inspire and motivate others to be the best they can be. And they both lead by example.
So, it was no surprise that when Dr. Joan Murray retired from the Army after serving 22 years, she would love to teach.
“I became a teacher through the Troops to Teachers program at the age of 47, and the lights came on,” Murray said. “I loved teaching from the start.”
Murray retired as a first sergeant in 2007, after serving with the 399th Army Band at Fort Leonard Wood. Since then, she has worked as a music teacher with three school districts across Missouri — four years at Climax Springs, six at Edgar Springs and four at Rolla Public Schools.
She credits her Army service for her success in education.
“All that I learned in the military has helped me as a teacher,” she said. “The personal growth that the military fostered in me is what has made the difference in my teaching. Leading by example, being the best that we can be — things that the military taught me, are things that have carried me through.”
Path to service
Murray, a native of Somerville, New Jersey, put herself through school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, on a full-music scholarship and by working and practicing music six hours a day. After graduation though, music would have to wait.
“I moved home because my father wasn’t well at the time,” she said. “I was working in an office and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t what I loved to do.”
A family history of military service influenced Murray toward a new career path. She followed three of her uncles and joined the Army in 1985, serving as a Pershing Missile Crewmember, an occupation she would have for four years.
“I was on the command evaluation team (first female) for the Pershing II Missiles,” she said. “I used to break Emergency Action Messages in the Pershing II system like the ‘War Games’ movie — it was really exciting.”
It was also tough, she said, but “for me, one of the great things about the Army is that there is always someone around who cares.”
A chance encounter at Fort Benning directed Murray down another path in the Army — one that would set her on the road to where she is now.
“I was going through training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and had gotten hurt,” Murray said. “A Soldier sat down at my table in the mess hall and said he was a band recruiter. I said, ‘Oh really, I have a degree in music.’”
That short conversation led to on-the-job training with the band. She spent the rest of her Army career as a musician and leader with Army bands, including the SHAPE Band in Belgium, 1st Infantry Division Band in Germany and the 399th Army Band.
“(The Army) was good for me,” Murray said. “I liked the fact that the Army made me do things that I didn’t think that I could do. It was really good for my confidence.”
Love of teaching
While on active duty, Murray used the Army’s education benefits to complete a master’s degree in education from the University of Oklahoma, and after retirement, she used her GI Bill to obtain a master’s in teaching from Missouri State University and became a certified teacher. She continued her education by earning a doctorate in the Teacher Leader Program from Walden University.
She participated in the Troops to Teachers program from 2007 through 2008, and worked as a permanent substitute teacher. The following year and her first year as a teacher, Murray won the Missouri Troops to Teachers Teacher of the Year.
And since then, Murray, who is currently a vocal music teacher at Rolla Middle School in Rolla, Missouri, has inspired and motivated thousands of students.
One of those students is fifth-grader Reagan Retherford.
“This year was Reagan’s first year in choir,” her mother, Elizabeth, said. “It was her idea to join, to try something new and out of her comfort zone.”
Elizabeth said Reagan has “really enjoyed choir and is excited for every performance.” She said Reagan’s confidence has continued to grow, even trying out for solos throughout the year.
“I like to think this is because of Dr. Murray,” Elizabeth said. “She sets goals and expectations, and the students rise to meet them. Dr. Murray’s musical education, knowledge and talent are such an asset to the district.”
Murray attributes her accomplishments at Rolla to the school’s leadership.
“I am successful at RMS because of the support and encouragement I receive from RMS leaders,” she said. “I have been through difficult things the last few years — deaths of my father and first therapy dog, as well as surgery this past December, and they have been with me every step of the way.”
Soldier for Life
Like the Army, Murray’s day at RMS begins early in the morning. She arrives to her classroom at 6 a.m. and starts prepping for her day, which typically consists of some sort of morning duty, such as bus duty or choir, followed by teaching six classes a day.
Throughout her day, Murray regularly uses the knowledge she gained from the Army to assist in the classroom and with choir.
“Everything from the Army prepared me to be a teacher,” she said. “NCOs in the Army lead small groups and that grows as we progress in rank — that has been so essential, especially this year. I had no idea the choir would take off like it has — we currently have over 80 kids in the choir.”
She also said the 399th Army Band has been instrumental in her teaching career.
“I really need to emphasize how great the 399th Army Band has been to me in retirement — they have played for the students at my schools for the last 10 years; the band has had my choirs sing at their holiday concerts several times,” she said. “The band has made me (and my education adventures) a part of the family.”
Murray continues to be a part of the Army family as a retired Soldier, and when asked about what it means to be a Soldier for Life, she simply ended with, “The Army is the best thing that I ever did for myself.”
(Stephen Standifird contributed to this story.)
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission