‘Welcome back, Colonel Murphy’

UND Army ROTC commander talks Veterans Day, leadership and return to alma mater

Lt. Col. Jason Murphy

Lt. Col. Jason Murphy’s 20-plus year military path has taken him around the world on a full circle back to UND, where he currently serves as commander of the University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps battalion. Image courtesy of Lt. Col. Jason Murphy.

Lt. Col. Jason Murphy is a leader of young men and women.

As professor of military science at UND, he’s the top dog over UND’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets – guiding them, molding them and mentoring them into the leaders and veterans of tomorrow. It’s in his blood. It’s something he’s good at.

His 20-plus year path has taken him around the world on a full circle back to UND. An alum of UND ROTC, he was commissioned as a distinguished second lieutenant and graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 1996.

“It really is exceptional to be back here at UND,” said Murphy of his alma mater program, which currently comprises 107 Army cadets. “It’s a good-sized program on a great campus with wonderful things to offer.”

In fact, when the offer to return to UND was floated by Murphy – at the time, an assistant professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. – he accepted it before first consulting with his wife, Sashaa, who is also a UND grad.

“It’s the first time in my military career that I ever did something like that,” he said. Ultimately, Sashaa concurred with the decision, and the Murphys have been back in Grand Forks for about 15 months.

Eagle Scout to Bronze Star

Lt. Col. Jason J.F. Murphy, 44, is a decorated Soldier with three overseas combat deployments (Iraq and twice in Afghanistan) under his belt.

Lt. Col. Jason Murphy

Lt. Col. Jason J.F. Murphy, UND Army ROTC commander.

But interestingly his bio lists his Eagle Scout badge, earned as a kid, ahead of battlefield honors such as Army Commendation Medals (he has five) and a Bronze Star, typically presented for heroic acts in a combat zone. The Boy Scouts introduced him to leadership at a young age, he explained, and paired him with important mentors, one of whom he consults with still today.

“For me the trail to the Eagle is what set the conditions for everything that followed,” said Murphy, who grew up in Monticello, Minn. “I think the reason it’s listed first is that I don’t think anything else was possible in my military service without it.”

Murphy’s Bronze Star was earned during his first deployment, when he was responsible for the movement of all ground cargo from Karachi, Pakistan to five points in Afghanistan as a member of the 10th Mountain Division. He doesn’t like to dwell on it much beyond that.

“People receive awards for various reasons and are recommended for awards but my greatest reward in that whole tour was the people I served with,” Murphy said. “I really felt a close bond with them … if I wasn’t grown up before, I really grew up during that deployment – I really came to realize the value of life.”

With Veterans Day on the horizon, Murphy’s thoughts quickly turn to all those who have served as well as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“Those are our brothers and sisters who have really given all, and it’s just incredible to be a part of this brotherhood and sisterhood that we call the U.S. Armed Forces,” Murphy said.

Change of plans

With all that he’s seen and done, looking back, it’s interesting that Murphy’s military beginnings were a bit inauspicious.

As a student at UND, Murphy was married with a child with an eye toward graduating, securing a job with private-sector Honeywell, joining an Army Reserve unit, getting a dog and hunting and fishing on the side.

Plans changed in a hurry when he got orders to report to Ft. Wainwright, Alaska, for a platoon leader assignment. The orders were coded “RA,” which Murphy mistook to mean “Reserve Army.”  To his chagrin, he was later informed the letters stood for “Regular Army,” and with that it was good-bye to any thoughts of part-time military life for the time being.

“I never wanted to be on active duty,” Murphy recalled. “I was kind of a disgruntled second lieutenant because your pay at Honeywell and your pay in the Army as a second lieutenant are very different.”

Lt. Col. Jason Murphy (right)

Murphy (right) earned a Bronze Star, for acts of heroism in a combat zone, during his first deployment, when he was responsible for the movement of all ground cargo from Karachi, Pakistan to five points in Afghanistan as a member of the 10th Mountain Division. Image courtesy of Lt. Col. Jason Murphy.

Rewarding career

Then came new assignment after new assignment. Murphy just couldn’t shake active-duty Army.

“Every time I wanted to leave and go into a civilian career,” he said, “the Army had a way of saying – ‘hey, what do you think about doing this?’”

Over the next several years, the Army sent Murphy to career development courses and a year-long stint with Federal Express in Memphis, Tenn.; allowed him to pick up two master’s degrees, including an MBA; and gave him two instructor assignments at the Command and General Staff College; all among other various stops and deployments along the way.

By the time he returned to UND, Murphy had amassed a portfolio that might equate to a Ph.D. in leadership and a résumé well suited for his current ROTC stint.

“Look at all the things I have experienced and the places I’ve seen,” Murphy said, “and now to be back here where I began – it’s just incredibly rewarding.”

Leading legacy

At UND, Murphy leads an ROTC battalion with a strong reputation of excellence.

That legacy has continued under his guidance, as late last month, UND Army ROTC took first place in the regional Task Force Competition that pitted his cadets against others from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota in a contest of leadership and skills. UND then moved on to the semifinals against cadets from 40 other schools at Camp Dodge, Iowa.

Further testament to the quality of cadets at UND is the fact that the program boasts the No. 8 ranked Army cadet in the nation in Ben Nelson, a senior majoring in chemistry, who’s already been accepted to go on to medical school.

Murphy said that UND provides the perfect environment for cadets to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves and to excel as leaders in action in the classroom and in the Army.

“UND has an incredible way of producing great officers,” Murphy said. “What I mean by that is that a lot of people go to places such as the University of Washington, Marquette or Notre Dame or any of these other $50,000 a year places for a brand name, but in the end, the education you get here at UND sets you up just as well as those other places for any success that want to have in life.”