Friday, August 1, 2014

Women Who Inspire: Interview with Margaret (Marcantonio) Rayburn

Here's another in my continuing series of interviews with women who inspire the strong female protagonists in my novels. This time, meet Margaret Rayburn!

Margaret (Marcantonio) Rayburn graduated with a Bachelor of Science in General Engineering from the US Naval Academy and reported to Navy Recruiting Area Three, Macon, GA. She acted as the Advertising and Marketing Support Officer for three years before transferring to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), Troy, MI, where she served as the Operations Officer. After six years of active duty service, Margaret returned to the civilian sector, remaining in the Naval Reserves for an additional two years, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander (O-4). She currently works for a segment of UnitedHealth Group called Optum as a Vice President for Population Health Management Reporting. Margaret lives with her husband, Jeff (USNA '87) and two daughters, Meghan and Michaela, in Eden Prairie, MN - just outside of Minneapolis.  Her son, Joey, is a Navy sailor (ET3) and is completing Nuclear Power School in Charleston, SC. Meghan graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a Bachelor of Music Therapy in May 2014, and is currently working at her internship in the twin cities area for board certification.  

AW:  Margaret, why the Naval Academy?

MR: My older brother went there—Class of ‘82.  When he was a plebe, I went to visit him during Parent’s Weekend, and I said, “I’m gonna do this!” I was only eleven years old—in sixth grade. I remember my mom’s reaction—something like, “Yeah . . . right.”

AW: Was she surprised that you were still talking about it in high school?

MR: Yeah. But then it was that slow realization that, wow, she’s really serious about this.

AW: Did you apply to any other schools?

MR: Yes, I was accepted at the University of Michigan, and I actually thought that’s where I was going because I hadn't heard back from the Naval Academy. I just assumed I hadn't been accepted.

AW: So what happened?

MR: It turns out they had lost my paperwork. My congressmen called me while I was in the middle of a final exam in government class—this is in May, mind you, one month before Plebe Summer begins—and he told me I had gotten in.

AW: You only had a month’s notice that you were going to the Naval Academy!

MR: Yeah, is that crazy? (laughs)

AW: I would say so! Looking through your biography, it says you served in Troy, MI, at the MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Station].

MR: I was the Operations Officer there. It was a small joint command, and we did the entrance processing for the high school kids coming into the service. They would take their aptitude tests there, get their physicals, all of that.

AW: Was this just for the navy or all of the services?

MR: This was for all of the services. Once the kids knew what they were qualified for, they would pick their job, sign their contract, take their oath of office, and then we’d ship them off to boot camp. In fact, I did the swearing in for these kids.

AW: You mean like, “I, Jane Smith, do solemnly swear. . .”

MR: Yep. I did that for thousands of new service members.

AW: Thousands? How many people did you process through your command?

MR: Oh, gosh. Probably fifteen hundred kids a month.

AW: Fifteen hundred per month! 

MR: Yeah, we were a busy place. We probably had eighty kids per day coming in for physicals.

AW: I had no idea. But you know, that is really kind of cool. Taking the oath of office is a big deal. I mean, it’s the common starting point for all of us—regardless of service, regardless of rank—and you were the one administering this to umpteen thousand kids.

MR: I guess you’re right. We always had families coming in to watch and take pictures. It was a pretty big event for most.

AW: And you were the one starting them on their journeys. That really strikes a chord with me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a parent. It’s like sending your kids off into the big, wide world to start their lives.

MR: Yeah, I know what you mean. Each swearing in ceremony was a proud moment for me.

AW: After your tour at the MEPS, you transitioned into the civilian world and went to work for Electronic Data Systems as a business analyst. Was that an easy transition or did you find any difficulty there?

MR: The transition wasn’t so bad. It was almost the same work-wise. I just wasn’t wearing a uniform anymore. But the weirdest thing was that the hierarchy was gone. I was so used to my chain of command in the navy. You always knew your place. You knew who you went to if you needed something. So that took some getting used to.

AW: How about the hiring process? I’ve heard over and over from others how their military experience didn’t open the doors for them as they thought it would.

MR: Yeah, that part was frustrating. I had just left a smaller command, but due to the way it was structured, I actually held a rather high position—almost like an executive officer. I was responsible for an awful lot of people. But when I went to interview, I was told I didn’t have management experience. I explained that I lead so many people—I can’t remember the exact number now—but they countered that it wasn’t the same thing. I basically didn’t get any credit for my leadership experience, so I had to start at the bottom rung of the company and work my way back into a management position. In fact, I had to take a fifty percent pay cut from what I was making in the military.

AW: Ouch. So I realize I’m skipping around here, but your husband, Jeff, is a Class of ’87 grad. Did you meet him at school or later?

MR: We actually met at school, in the Catholic Choir. I went to a Superintendent’s reception at the end of our plebe year, and I met him there. We weren’t in uniforms or anything, so it was somewhat of a normal meeting, I guess you would say. We’ve been together ever since.

AW: That means when you were a youngster, you were dating a firstie with a car! Lucky!

MR: I know! He had a brand new mustang. It was sweet.

AW: I’m laughing because Bill and I just walked around downtown Annapolis in our uniforms for our “dates.” So do you have a favorite memory of the Naval Academy? 

MR: You mean besides graduation? (laughs) Oh, let’s see. I would say it was plebe year right after we beat Army [in football]. Everything was fairly lax at school after that. Everyone was happy heading into Christmas break. Remember how they gave us carry-on? No chopping. No yelling. It was almost like a normal college, and it was the first time I hadn't felt like a plebe.

AW: I absolutely remember that! 

MR: Our room faced out onto Goat Court [a courtyard within the walls of Bancroft Hall—the dormitory that houses the brigade of midshipman]. As plebes, we weren’t allowed to have stereos or music, but after the Army-Navy game, the upperclassmen would put their stereos in the windows and play Christmas music. I remember opening our window to listen to the music, and it was heaven. I felt so happy—like a normal human being.

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