In Our Nation's Service

Stephen Murphy acquired a vast knowledge of the United States at a fairly young age. The fact that he grew up in Dundalk, Ireland, makes this all the more impressive. “We were always talking politics, and we visited the states a few times,” he recalls of his youth.

Murphy developed a great appreciation for America, particularly the nation’s political foundations. The son of a pastor and an occupational therapist, he eventually moved to Virginia at age 19. Now 29 and a U.S. citizen, he’s poised to launch his career as a second lieutenant in the Army. “I’m very proud to be an American,” he says.

Planting Roots in America
What began as a temporary job became a life-changing experience for Murphy. Following his freshman year attending college in Ireland, he spent the summer working at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. There he met his future wife, Heather (’04), a fellow Busch employee and CNU communication studies major. A Virginia transplant herself, she was born in Charleston, S.C., and has lived in Florida and Guatanamo Bay, Cuba. Following her father’s retirement from the Navy, her family settled in the commonwealth where she graduated from Jamestown High School.

“We hit it off pretty quickly. Then we had to decide whether this was serious or not, since I was going back to Ireland after three months,” Murphy recalls of the couple’s early days together. “We both came to the conclusion it was.”

At summer’s end he returned to Ireland, dropped out of school and began working. He eventually earned enough money to return to Virginia on a student visa and enrolled at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk. “During that time I got engaged to Heather, and we got married – a year after our first kiss, to the day,” he notes.

That was June 29, 2003, while Heather was still enrolled at CNU. To help pay for an apartment, Murphy once again put school on hold and began working for Waterford Crystal in Williamsburg. He later joined Williamsburg Winery, where he did website design work.

Murphy developed design skills during his first year in college, studying marketing with an e-business focus. In time he picked up more Web development skills independently, designing websites on the side.

Becoming a Captain
During his tenure with the winery, the couple welcomed the first of three children, daughter Ciara (6). She was later joined by their son, Evan (3), and daughter Ashling (1). “Shortly after Ciara was born I got word of a job opening in Web design at CNU,” recalls Murphy, who joined the Office of Communications and Public Relations in late 2007.

At the time, Heather was working across the hall in University Advancement. Drawing on the skills she acquired as a CNU student, she led the telefund program, raising financial contributions for her alma mater.

“While I was here I figured if there’s any time you can finish your degree it would be while you’re working at a university,” Murphy says. He soon began taking classes, this time as a CNU Captain working toward a political science degree, which required him to assume an often hectic schedule as husband, father, full-time employee and student.

He accomplished much as a Web assistant, perhaps most notably his work on CNU’s website redesign and his development of the University’s mobile site.

“I really lucked out with the department I’m in,” Murphy says. “They were very supportive of these new goals.” Also on his list of pursuits was serving in the U.S. military.

Pursuing the Army Life
Murphy’s responsibilities expanded even more when he added ROTC to his schedule. “I’d always wanted to be in the military in some capacity,” he explains. “I’ve really enjoyed ROTC. It’s been a lot of work.” Early mornings became a regular routine as he attended 6 a.m. physical training at least three days a week. After each intense workout he would quickly shower and change clothes in The Freeman Center, head to work in the Administration Building, attend class during the day or in the evening, and still carve out time for his family and homework.

In summer 2012 he completed the Army’s five-week Leadership Development and Assessment Course for ROTC cadets – a program with a large impact on his future. “There’s pressure because you know your every step is being evaluated,” he says of the exercises that test physical and mental capabilities through activities like live firing and combat scenarios. “The full gamut of military expertise is evaluating you.”

During senior year cadets learn their score, as well as where it places them nationally among 5,000-6,000 peers. Combined with personal preferences, this score helps determine each cadet’s assigned branch. “It’s a combination of what you want and how many slots are left in that branch,” he says, “air defense artillery is where I’m going.”

Everything comes to fruition this spring. “A day or two before graduation we actually get commissioned, and then there’s another ceremony at commencement,” he says. At that point Murphy will be an Army officer.

Murphy begins his service this summer at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. After four months he transitions to an as-yet-unknown permanent duty station Army base, working as a second lieutenant. If all goes as planned he should be promoted to first lieutenant after 18 months; around his fourth year he can rise to the rank of captain.

To honor his Army scholarship, Murphy must complete four years of active-duty service, followed by a few years in the reserves. After those four years, however, he can choose to continue in active service. “I’m hoping to really enjoy it and see through the 20 years,” he says, noting that he would then be able to retire with all the associated benefits. If he stays in the Army he can also pursue his master’s degree.

Preparing for the Future
A successful student, Murphy entered his final semester with a 3.88 grade-point average, and commencement ushers in a busy summer for him.  Besides being commissioned, he celebrates his 10th year of marriage, leaves a job he thoroughly enjoys and prepares to move his family. Yet he and Heather are ready for the challenges ahead.

“Stephen asked me to marry him 11 years ago. Even then, I knew he was going to be a doting husband and an amazing father. What I could not have foreseen was the direction he would lead our family,” she says. “For the past four years, I have watched in awe as he has excelled at each of his five full-time jobs: Web assistant, student, cadet, father and husband. I couldn't be more proud. He has handled his responsibilities and commitments with such poise and grace, and I love him more now than I did 11 years ago.”

Murphy believes not walking Christopher Newport’s campus daily will be “jolting” at first. “I will miss the people most of all at CNU; the people in the office will be tough to leave,” he says. In turn, he has left a large impression on those who have crossed his path.

“Stephen Murphy – perhaps more than any other student I have ever taught – embraces the foundational principles of America. Perhaps this is because he became an American citizen by choice rather than by birth. Perhaps it is because he chose to risk his life in the armed forces of his adopted land,” says William Thro who previously served as CNU’s university counsel and pre-law adviser. “Stephen has a great love and a thorough understanding of the ideals behind our constitutional system. Having him in my constitutional law class was a real pleasure.”

And while he’s now a full-fledged American citizen ready to serve his adopted country, Murphy has a deep fondness for the homeland he left a decade ago. He notes, “I love going back to Ireland to visit. I love my family and the people there.”

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