Sisters in arms celebrate near misses

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Col. Nancy Parson and Command Sgt. Maj. Janell Ray are sisters serving for Army Medical Command. Duty, not rivalry, is the foundation of their commitment to the Army.

Parson is currently director of Patient Care Integration, which includes virtual health, women’s health, surgical services, patient administration, pharmacy, blood, lab, and toxicology, at the Office of the Surgeon General. She was commander of 2nd Medical Recruiting Battalion before arriving and is an obstetric nurse by training.

Ray is the 10th command sergeant major of Ireland Army Health Clinic. She has always been in the medical field, and her previous duty assignment was as sergeant major for the division surgeon in 10th Mountain Division, where she was the first female sergeant major to serve in that position at Fort Drum, New York. Ray originally was a physical therapy tech but later trained as a combat medic.

The sisters did not come to the Army by accident. Service in the military is a family tradition and both Parson and Ray were born at Fort Hood, Texas. Their father, who retired as a sergeant major, and a grandfather both served in the military — the family name is McHodgkins. An older brother served in as an Army reservist for 10 years.

Although both sisters attended Eastern Kentucky University, they didn’t follow the same career path. Par-son went through Re- serve Officers’ Training Corps, but Ray enlisted after finishing college. Ray chose service as an enlisted Soldier because of their father’s example.

Their careers have similarities and a few quirks.

Parson deployed in 2004 to Baghdad; Ray to Tikrit in 2010. Parson was on duty at Fort Hood when a first baby of the year was born, and Ray was on duty for the last baby born at Ireland before the birthing unit closed. Combined, they have nearly 50 years of military service.

The sisters were raised to be independent thinkers and to express themselves clearly. They also learned to accept change and be change agents. They believe if you don’t change and adapt, it is difficult to succeed in the military environment. And both make it clear that military service, despite the demands of duty, opens doors for an outstanding professional and personal life.

Now Ray is preparing for an upcoming permanent change of station, her fourth move since 2014. She explained that when you grow up as an Army “brat,” you get to experience the culture of other countries. The pair spent eight years overseas while growing up.

Ray appreciates being exposed to all the culture, having been to places most people will never see. In one instance, she was sitting in an art history class at around age 19. On the screen were photographs of Spanish architecture at locations she had already seen in person.

Being in a military family allows seeing the world through a different set of eyes, she explained. It provides an education that those outside of the military may never get.

The chief “hobby” for both may well be family. Recently, Ray had 27 family members over at a family gathering. Both sisters cited support of family as a key part of their success; even their children have been supportive during the frequent moves.

They have personal interests as well. Parson loves yoga. Ray loves the outdoors — horseback riding, hiking and high-adrenaline activities such as bungee jumping. Ray and her husband like to work out and have a full gym at home.

In a career set where paths cross again and again and Soldiers bump into each other from time to time, the sisters have oddly never been stationed at an installation at the same time. Only in the past year have they ever been on temporary duty to the same location at the same time. Instead, Parson has followed Ray on several occasions – from Fort Stewart to Fort Sam Houston and then to Fort Hood.

That trend continues.

Parson said last week she has received orders to Fort Knox. She’ll arrive January 2018 – one month after Ray leaves for Bliss.

Although each has followed a different career path, the sisters in arms remain in step with each other’s career. They don’t brag about their individual career accomplishments – with the exception of physical fitness test scores – but instead complement each other through mutual support.

Parson and Ray agree their successes have been due to developing people by mentoring and recognizing the organization doesn’t
end at the clinic or hospital doors, but extends to the entire Army.

Parson said while her sister hasn’t been there physically to help her, she’s been there at every step with advice on working with enlisted Soldiers. In turn, Parson provides advice on working with command and staff officers.

Ray said wherever they serve, both will continue “to transform the organization by helping others grow.” n