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Coast Guard veteran Crystal Murry: ‘Living my life for me’
As a university student in the late 1980s, Crystal Murry worked as a security officer in the dorms and picked up extra shifts whenever possible. But the job forced her to miss class and she ended up on academic probation.
So Murry joined the Coast Guard, where she could put her strong work ethic and sense of duty to good use. And this, she says, was the true beginning of her journey — a journey in which she would grow up and come out as gay, but also face adversity simply because of who she is.
“I have found that adversity does not show sympathy, empathy, compassion or prejudice,” says Murry, now 53 and living near Muskegon. “Adversity gives equal opportunity to all.”
Life in the Coast Guard
Murry grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist household in Memphis, Tennessee. Her enlistment in the Coast Guard in 1990 completed her family’s circle of covering all five services at the time (the Space Force was created later). Her grandfather served in the Army in WWII, her father was a Marine during the Vietnam War, an uncle was in the Air Force in Vietnam and a cousin served in the Navy.
At bootcamp in Cape May, New Jersey, Murry ranked second out of all the women in her company. She was assigned to a small boat station in Ludington, Michigan, and reported for duty in May 1990. Over the next two years, she would perform a number of duties, including first responder, radio watch operator and member of a search and rescue team.
Murry and her team were the “police on the water,” sometimes boarding suspicious vessels with their weapons at the ready. She served during the Gulf War and received the National Defense Service Medal.
Just because Murry wasn’t sent to Iraq doesn’t mean she didn’t serve her country during wartime. “If you sent all of our service members to foreign soil, there would be no one here to protect America,” she notes. “During a war, everybody has to do their part, whether it’s over there or over here.”
Murry loved her job, but she grew tired of having male friends have to escort her to military functions. Her chief also attempted to have her court martialed for associating with the gay community in Ludington. “I had to be a different person when I went to work,” she says.
So Murry put in her two years and got out with an honorable discharge, deciding to stay in Michigan rather than return to Tennessee.
“I’m very proud to be a veteran,” she says. “I know what I did and what I accomplished. Nobody can take that away from me.”
A difficult transition followed. For a while, Murry could only find odd jobs: secretary, dietary aid, factory worker. “But I finally found my way back to my career path,” she says. “I was hired by the private prison in Baldwin, Michigan.”
Murry would use her VA educational benefits to earn associate degrees in general studies and corrections from Westshore Community College. She climbed the ranks at the prison and was part of the team that helped catch an escaped prisoner during a blizzard in 2002.
When the prison closed, she was hired by the Michigan Department of Corrections and worked at the Muskegon and Ionia prisons, working her way up to sergeant. She served 14 years total in the prison industry. She now works as a bailiff for a Circuit Court judge in Muskegon County, a job from which she plans to retire.
But perhaps the most difficult part of Murry’s transition was her decision to come out as gay. Although her family wanted her to come home after she was discharged, she didn’t want to live a lie any longer. She called her father and told him she was gay. Once her mother found out, Murry says, “she disowned me. She sent me everything that had to do with me: school pictures, awards, anything.”
Her relationship with her mother remains strained to this day, but Murry says she feels liberated after coming out.
“I decided to live my life for me,” she says, “It’s very stressful to try to be something you're not to please other people.”
It would be understandable for Murry to be bitter. She’s not.
“One’s life should be defined by how they handle the adversity they face — by enriching their life and bettering themselves,” she says. “There is so much negativity in the world today. I don’t want to focus on the adversity that has challenged me over the years. I want to focus on how I channeled all of the negativity and adversity into a positive, by showing my accomplishments and showing what a wonderful life I have and will continue to have.”
Veterans of any age or era — or their dependents — may qualify for benefits and resources, such as VA health care, mental health services and education and employment assistance. The MVAA serves as the central coordinating point for Michigan veterans to get connected to their benefits. Contact us at 1-800-MICH-VET (1-800-642-4838) or visit our website at michigan.gov/mvaa.
If you're a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention 24/7/365. Call 988 and press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.