“I had a job to do…” U.S. Navy Veteran Ingrid Boyum on Service

During Episcopal’s annual Veterans Day Chapel service, head girls’ varsity lacrosse coach and admissions associate Ingrid Boyum looked back at her career in the U.S. Navy.
A lot of people around campus have asked me, “How did you end up here?” It’s an understandable question because it is a pretty major change going from handling top secret information consequential to national security to working at boarding school. 

My path to service began when I was a sophomore at Madeira and was recruited to play Division 1 lacrosse at the Naval Academy. I didn’t fully comprehend what I was committing to, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. When you commit to attend any service academy, you sign up for four years of school and five years of active duty after graduation. 

I was only 17 when I reported for duty at the Naval Academy, so my mom had to sign the paperwork before I could start training. Over the course of my four years in school, I studied leadership, ethics, calculus, thermodynamics, and aeronautical engineering—all as an English major. Compared to EHS, our room inspections involved the use of a white glove to see if there was any dust on the blinds. I lived “on dorm” all four years, and if I wanted to “co-ed visi,” the door had to be open at a 90-degree angle, and the point of the co-ed visi was usually to review chemistry homework. Instead of MRC Days and externships, my experiential learning consisted of training the Navy’s bomb-finding dolphins (which is a talk for another time), running around in the woods with Marines, and navigating warships. 

The highlight of my time at the Academy was being a part of the women’s lacrosse team. I learned more about leadership on the lacrosse field than I did in any classroom. It didn’t hurt that my team was pretty good. We won two league championships, and in 2017, we were the first women’s team from any service academy in any sport to play in an NCAA Final Four. 

After graduating, I commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy, which means I became a brand new baby officer, and was several ranks below Captain Eldred. A few years later, I found myself onboard the mighty USS HARRY S TRUMAN, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. We set out for what was scheduled to be a six-month deployment, and almost 10 months later we finally came home. We missed holidays, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. While onboard, I led a team of sailors and was in charge of providing tactical intelligence updates to the entire carrier strike group, about 7,500 people spread across 5 ships to include an entire air wing of pilots, just like in “Top Gun.”

Life on the aircraft carrier was not easy. On top of being away from home, imagine living underneath an airport. Your phone doesn’t work so you can’t Snapchat your friends, and after a month at sea your downloaded Spotify stops playing. I worked 16-hour days, mostly on overnight shifts, and took care of my sailors every single day for months at a time. No sick days, no holidays. I had a job to do. 

My sailors depended on me. Instead of two or three to a room, they shared a small cramped space with 40 sailors, no windows, and beds stacked 3 high. Most of the time the hot water didn’t work. 

They often waited in lines for over an hour just to get half a waffle at Sunday brunch in the galley, and most were away from their loved ones for the first time. A big part of my job that wasn’t in the job description was to do everything I could to make life better for them. As an officer, I had access to a smaller dining hall with better food, so I filled my pockets with Rice Krispie treats, Pop-Tarts, and sometimes even burritos to sneak back to our work space, speed-walking through the rocking dark hallways, hoping I wouldn’t get caught. On Christmas, I cut a deal with a friend to send my sailors up one by one to drive the ship in the middle of the night, telling them maybe they’d find Santa somewhere over the ocean. I invited my sailors to come work out with me, did their laundry when the machines they had access to broke, and took them to medical to make sure they would actually see a doctor. I had a job to do.

One night I was on duty, on a dark, windowless watch floor full of screens. Around 3 a.m., one of my sailors turned around and asked me to look at her monitor, which was flashing red. That night, my team tracked the onset of the Russian invasion into Ukraine. Our strike group was operating in the Mediterranean Sea, in close proximity to Russian warships and submarines. A lot of things were riding on our ability to handle the pressure in that situation. On my ability to lead my team. When I signed up to join the Navy at 17, I couldn’t have imagined it would be my voice coming across the communications network announcing the reality of the situation to other US Navy ships in the region, and briefing senior officers who I’d just woken up about how our world changed so suddenly. There was no way to comprehend the devastation that would follow and still continues today, or all the lives that would be changed. But, for me, once again, I had a job to do. 

I hope thinking of the veterans in your life — family members, neighbors, and those here at EHS, encourages you to follow their example of service. While the military certainly isn’t for everyone, we all get to serve those around us, and have an impact in ways that you may never know the full extent of. We serve others in small moments, in being a good teammate or dorm neighbor to organized service opportunities like an hour in the student garden. 
We are able to live our lives the way we want because others are serving in a big way, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice so that we have the privilege of getting to go about our lives. 

As we go through our days here at Episcopal, instead of thinking about all the things we HAVE to do, think about everything we GET to do. We get to eat in the dining hall, we get to go to practice. 

Now that I am no longer in uniform, I found a way to continue representing my country: as a box lacrosse goalie on Team USA. When things get tough on the field, I take a deep breath and then I smile, feeling grateful that I get to be where I am in that moment because, around the world, brave men and women are standing the watch, protecting our freedom.