“I wasn’t ready,” Marlys Tuftin of Whalan said. While Tuftin was studying at Winona State, her college roommate asked her to join the Navy with her on the buddy system. Tuftin wasn’t interested at the time and ended up turning her down for a job in civilian nursing, but five years later, she had second thoughts. “I decided to try it for three years,” she said.
Those three years turned into 23. In 1978, Tuftin started her career in the Navy Nurse Corps at the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Wash. She spent three years there, first working in the general medical ward for a year and then completing some advanced training during the next two years. During her time at Bremerton, Tuftin had the privilege of attending the decommissioning ceremony for the USS Higbee, a WWII destroyer named for a Navy nurse. “That was a highlight of my time there,” she said. She also took part in moving the hospital from an older facility at the shipyard to a new building outside of the town. Doing so was complicated as some of the personnel had to be at the new hospital to accept patients and get everything ready while the rest of the crew stayed at the old hospital to prepare the patients for transport and close it down.
From Bremerton, Tuftin was sent to Oakland Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where she spent nearly four years. At first she worked in the coronary care unit and then moved into orthopedics where she became the ward charge nurse. She found it challenging, but rewarding as she assisted with new medical advancements such as hip replacements. During that time, she also went for two weeks of training at Camp Pendleton in California. She and her colleagues lived and worked in tents that they had to set up themselves. The group completed field training for a Rapid Deployment Medical Facility which is a forward unit used during wartime to triage, treat injuries, and stabilize patients before sending them to a hospital.
After Oakland, Tuftin moved to Whidby Island Naval Hospital near Oak Harbor, Wash. She served there for three years, spending time in the ER and in family practice. While there, she was able to take part in some new responsibilities. “I was given the opportunity to serve as the hospital’s Disaster Preparedness Officer and also coordinated mass casualty exercises for the hospital in conjunction with emergency responders at the Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, and the civilian community of Island County,” she explained. “These joint exercises were staged realistically and with varying scenarios that challenged emergency responders and promoted coordination of efforts and communications among the responders across agencies.”
Tuftin’s next stop was overseas at Keflavik Naval Hospital in Iceland where she spent 18 months. From Iceland, she moved to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro back in California. While there, she attended to many reservists who were preparing to serve in Desert Shield. After three years, she was on the move again, this time to the University of Washington in Seattle to obtain a Master’s in Nursing. After that, her next three years were spent at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. This time, she worked in administrative positions in a multi-service specialty surgical unit and managed care.
Tuftin’s final tour of duty took her back to where it all started. While at Bremerton for the second time she once again participated in a training for a forward deployed medical facility, although this one was more advanced than the first. “They had top-notch equipment,” she said. “That was one of the highlights of my time in Bremerton as far as operational type training.”
In 2001, after 23 years of serving in the Navy Nurse Corps, it was finally time for Tuftin to hang up her hat. Her retirement ceremony took place at Bremerton where her commanding officer, Captain Christine Hunter officiated.
Tuftin appreciates all that she gained from being in the Navy. “Training and readiness is a huge aspect of military service, and working together as a team was extremely rewarding during my entire time in the U.S. Navy,” she explained. “One of the things that set us apart from civilian nursing was that type of training. We were trained in areas that you normally wouldn’t find in a civilian job.” One of her favorite things about the military was the camaraderie. “It’s a lot of fun to have everyone working together for a common goal,” she said. She still stays in touch with some of the people with whom she served.
The hardest part of her time in the Navy was the constant moving from one location to the next. “It’s a lot to get ready for the moves,” she said. The military did help her move though which made it easier. “It seemed like every transport I had, I always ran into someone I’d served with before,” she said.
Tuftin was born in Preston. She moved around a bit with her family, but moved back to Whalan when she was in fifth grade. “I consider myself a Whalanite,” she said. From then on, she attended school in Lanesboro and graduated from there. In September, she attended her 50th class reunion.
After retiring from the Navy, Tuftin worked for about five years as a nurse at the Franciscan Skemp family practice clinic in Caledonia. Since retiring from nursing completely, she has been involved with the American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary and has also kept busy with church activities as well as serving as the mayor of Whalan. “That has kept me pretty busy,” she said. She lives next door to her parents in Whalan, in a house built on the site of her grandmother’s home.
“It was good to serve,” Tuftin said. “But once you fully retire, there are always things to do. There are lots of organizations out there that need help.”