Professional News

'Behind the Blue': Col. Teresa Murray shares Army journey, inspires future social workers

Photo of Col. Murray Receiving Certificate
In April of this year, Teresa Murray, director of the UK Army-MSW program, was promoted to the rank of colonel. There are currently fewer than 10 active-duty social workers holding that title in the Army.

UKNow caught up with Col. Teresa Murray, director of the UK Army-Master of Social Work (MSW) program, following her promotion to colonel and ahead of Memorial Day. You can listen to the full interview on "Behind the Blue," by clicking the play button above.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 24, 2024) — As Memorial Day approaches, communities across the United States prepare to honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation.

Observed on the last Monday of May, it’s a solemn occasion dedicated to remembering and paying tribute to the fallen heroes of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Originating after the Civil War as Decoration Day, this federal holiday has evolved into a time for reflection, commemoration and gratitude for the freedoms secured by those who served.

Through parades, ceremonies and moments of silence, Americans unite to recognize the courage and dedication of these individuals — ensuring their legacy lives on in the heart of our nation.

“It's only because of those sacrifices the rest of us can live the free life that we do,” Teresa Murray said. “They gave it all, because they understood they had a calling.”

As a young girl growing up in a military family, Murray also knew she had a calling.

Following high school graduation, the eager 18-year-old immediately headed for the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Murray excelled during her four years at the Academy, and in 2002, she was commissioned as a medical service corps officer for the Army with an initial assignment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (now Fort Liberty).

Murray would follow her passion to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and onto Fort Hood, Texas, before being deployed to Iraq in 2006.

“It was a long 15-month deployment, during the surge in Baghdad. I took command of a medical company while I was there,” she said. “And around that time is when I heard about the Army advertising a Master of Social Work program.”

Soon after, Murray realized she had already been searching for ways to help her fellow comrades beyond combat.

“That was really appealing to me, because as a company commander at the time, I was working very closely with my soldiers,” she explained. “I was helping them solve problems that arose — whether that was personally or professionally — and helping link them to resources. That's a lot of what social workers do in the military.”

In October 2016, the UK College of Social Work (CoSW) established a partnership with the Department of Defense to offer the one-of-a-kind Army-UK Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

A satellite site was established within the Army Medical Department Center and School, now known as the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, at Fort Sam Houston. The satellite implements the full-time, 60-hour CoSW program including over 1,000 hours of field education in local social work agencies. The curriculum is delivered in a condensed format over 14 continuous months of study, and all classes are administered face-to-face on the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston campus. The goal is to develop well-qualified clinical social workers to fill positions across military service branches.

Murray and her husband (who also had a military background) applied to the accelerated program and were accepted.

In 2009, they both graduated with their MSW.

Murray quickly landed a position as a behavioral health officer with the second Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell and later deployed with them to Afghanistan.

Armed with the knowledge from her degree, she was determined to provide the mental health care that men and women in uniform deserve.

“Often, I will talk to people, and they're just astounded or surprised that we (military social workers) exist,” she said. “But there's a lot of similarities between military service and social work, because they're both very service driven professions.”

Though in a different capacity, Murray felt as if she was doing her part to serve her country and her fellow soldiers.

Life was going according to plan — as much as it can when you’re in the armed services and in a combat zone.

That’s when an unexpected call from home changed everything.

“It was while I was in Afghanistan that my husband was killed in a car accident. I had to return home,” she said. “Throughout that process, I was trying to decide whether I would stay in the military. We had two young children at that point (a four-year-old and a 21-month-old). It was never my plan to be a single mother in the Army.”

Murray leaned on her support system and also continued to provide support to others in need.

“I had some really good mentors that I was working with at the time, helping me look at all my options, and I decided to go ahead and stay in and move to Fort Gordon, Georgia,” she said. “I took a clinic chief position, leading the child and family behavioral health service, which provides behavioral health counseling to service members, spouses, families and children.”

Murray later “took a knee” to balance family life and pursue a Ph.D. “And then kind of my dream job from there was to go back to the Army's MSW program,” she said. “In 2020, I had the opportunity to do that and became the executive officer of the program.”

Today, Murray is at the helm of the program she graduated from and continues to rise within the Army ranks.

In April of this year, she was promoted to the rank of colonel. There are currently fewer than 10 active-duty social workers holding that title in the Army.

With more than 21 years of active federal service, Col. Murray says the role of social workers in the military continues to evolve.

“Educating social workers is one of our biggest priorities. It’s critical for our service members and their families to ensure they have access to all the mental health and well-being services, benefits, and resources they need — both in uniform and after service.”

More than two decades ago, Col. Murray answered a calling. Today, she remains on a mission.

“These future graduates might be the next social worker that's helping one of my kids in the clinic,” Murray said. “We want to make sure that we prepare them, we support them in the ways that they need, because America's sons and daughters deserve no less.”

You can learn more about the Army-MSW program here.

You can listen to Murray’s full interview on "Behind the Blue," by clicking the play button above.

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