Senior Chief Petty Officer Hospital Corpsman (HM)
Operation Deep Freeze - Mission to Antarctica.
Geralyn Majkowski with her children, from left, Mitchell F. Smardz, Colleen M. Smardz and Nathan J. Riley.
Medals and Awards - Marksman .45-caliber pistol, Naval Reserve Meritorious Service, Good Conduct, Antarctic Service Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, National Defense
Military - 1980, Boot Camp Orlando, Fla., and Great Lakes, Ill.; 1981, Long Beach California Naval Hospital; 1982, Operation Deep Freeze, South Pole; 1983, Fort Hueneme Sea Bee Base; 1985, Off active; 1986 U.S. Naval Reserves; 1991, Operation Desert Storm; 2002, Fleet Week.
Married: She married Joseph Majkowski on Sept. 4, 2004.
Children: Nathan J. Riley, Mitchell F. Smardz, Coleen M. Smardz
Grandchildren: Conrad, Henri
Geralyn Majkowski was born in 1959 at St. John's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the daughter of Edward and Mary Wunderlee. Her father worked as a machinist for the Yoder Medal Co. and her mother was an executive secretary for the Jacobs Co., which managed the Cleveland Sports Stadium.
I wondered how she got her name, Geralyn. She told me St. Gerard was the patron saint of mothers having trouble with pregnancies. While her mother was pregnant with her, two of her siblings were still in diapers. Her mother was constantly praying to St. Gerard to let this baby come soon. When she entered the world, her mom named her after the saint that brought her safe and quickly. Her two sisters Connie and Shelia and her three brothers Steve, Marty and Tony always played and did things together. Since Geralyn and her siblings were so close in age, they were able to help the each other with school, sports and just having fun as a family.
Geralyn attended St. Brendan's Irish Catholic School in North Olmsted. She recalled that even as an elementary student her classes were very active, being part of community events and traveling. She recalled overnight trips to Washington, D.C. for camping. One day historical outings were weekly events.
As a cheerleader at North Olmsted she noticed more and more girls were spending a lot of time with her. She later found out from a friend that the girls just wanted to get closer to her brother. He was a standout in high school sports and he was great looking too.
Geralyn loved to run the scoreboard and keep the statistics in hockey, baseball and wrestling. She also participated in local summer sports including softball, volleyball and kickball.
She graduated in 1977 with a class of more than 700 seniors. She had to decide which road she took to determine the future she wanted. She had done jobs like baby-sitting and eventually landed a baker's job at a fine, local restaurant, Danny Boys. When she was 18 she landed her first steady job at Fairview General Hospital as a nurses aide. She recalled having a very strict head nurse, but loved the things a nurses aide did. They floated from different departments ranging from labor and delivery to patient care.
Since she was didn't have her feet planted anywhere and was parting ways with a four-year friendship, Geralyn headed to Boise, Idaho, with other friends who wanted someone to help with the driving. The next two weeks found her liking the area and after a brief return home, she decided to return to Idaho where she landed a job at the Elks Rehabilitation Hospital. She found an apartment, but had no car.
Finding ways to work got easier as she found more nursing friends who would give her rides to work. Once when flying back home for her parents' 25th wedding anniversary an old friend pleaded with her to go on a blind date with a Navy friend. The date went well and she learned that the guy was a Navy Corpsman attached to the 3rd Marine division.
After the date, the two agreed to correspond. As the letters were received and read, Geralyn was so impressed with the job her friend had. He was helping others, seeing the world, and enjoying a monthly paycheck with benefits. It wasn't long before she sat down with a Navy recruiter learning she was not only eligible, but was also qualified to become a U.S. Navy Corpsman with a little training.
Finally a steady job with good benefits. A phone call later that day went to her parents telling them she was headed off to boot camp. Her father said, "I always hoped one of my children would serve our country and all of my family knew it would be you."
The Navy had a waiting period which gave her time to complete some courses that were needed. On Sept. 3, 1980 she headed to boot camp in Orlando, Fla. at Camp Raymond. In boot camp, she was designated as squad leader.
From there she was off to Great Lakes, Ill., to hospital corpsmen school. For 10 weeks at this school she attended classes and upon completion was the equivalent to that of a civilian LPN. This title had the same duties as an LPN. After completion of school she put in a request for duty at the Long Beach, Calif. With this duty came the rank of E-3 and title of hospital nurse or HN. At the Long Beach Naval Hospital she ran into her old blind date who was there for his duty station. They were both amazed that they were at the same hospital the night before and both didn't know it.
Majkowski had a friend who worked with her at the Naval hospital she knew from back home. He worked at the dispensary and she pulled duty in ICU (intensive care unit) on a rotating shift. She lived in the barracks and had the opportunity to meet new friends and even picked up pen pals as people moved from duty station to duty station, while she was at Long Beach.
She worked her for 18 months before learning about the Operation Deep Freeze that was being organized at that time. This involved the detachment of Sea Bees who were to work at the South Pole. This job required a female who would be assigned to the medical unit. To land this duty would be a chance of a lifetime, more than 50 interviews were held but Majkowski received word that she was selected. With the opportunity in her hand to go to the South Pole she now had a chance to get a feather in her hat with this naval career.
New orders for Operation Deep Freeze came and she headed for Christ Church, New Zealand on Air Force 141, which was the hub for naval support base Antarctica. From there she worked between the two bases with the other being an Air Force Base in the South Pole. Here another interview came to see if she would be able to handle the pressure of being placed at the South Pole.
After being assigned to the area, she was attached to NSFA (National Science Foundation America) where she provided medical aid to not only the Navy but also the Army and Air Force personnel. Here medical attention was given to stabilize patients before the patients were flown to Christ Church which was six hours away.
At this base the runways were actually frozen water. If the water was frozen six inches thick, A C-141 could land on it if it got to eight inches thick a C-131 could land safely.
Night was seldom seen. She recalled a 34-day stretch before seeing darkness. Her duties later ended her South Pole assignment. Next, she headed to Christ Church, New Zealand. Being assigned to New Zealand was a dream come true. She took many hiking trips to Mount Cook, along with trips to Athol Springs, sheep farm visits and recalled never seeing the end of the large sheep herds and beautiful country scenery. The country was simply beautiful. The people always made Americans feel welcome.
On Feb. 16, 1982, she met and married James M. T. Riley while stationed at Christ Church. The vows were exchanged in a military wedding that was attended by her entire unit.
After the wedding she was transferred to terminal island, Long Beach, Calif. Her husband had orders for Hueneme Sea Bee Station in California. The two duty stations were only about an hour apart. As time passed the couple received word that a baby was on the way. When their son Nathan J. Riley was born, Geralyn was given a four-week maternity leave and orders to report to Hueneme Sea Bee Station.
She was assigned duty next to her husband and two months later her husband received orders for NMCB-40 in Rota, Spain for a nine-month deployment. In the next four year period, the couple only spend nine months together. Next she headed to Fort Belvoir, Va. The long periods of being separated and shipped apart, didn't make a good base for marriage. Raising a family was hard because it didn't leave a large number of duty stations to choose from the mother's side.
The marriage eventually ended. In 1985 she was back in Ohio and joined the reserves. She worked hard and obtained everything that was needed to advance in rank and in 2006 she received the rank of E-8 Senior Chief.
Achieving this rank had its perks. Each year she would be off for her summer obligation of a two week cruise or assignment. She was assigned to places including Camp Pendleton Calif. fleet hospital and Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
Along with bases she also attended many classes which included career class readjustments at Point Mugu, Calif. She met a guy in her class named Douglas P. Smardz who later became a pen pal. The two eventually got together and married on July 4, 1987, in Lancaster, N.Y. This marriage brought the couple to Western New York. Both were attached to the Buffalo Naval Reserve. Majkowski received a position at Brother's of Mercy Rehabilitation and then the County Home of Buffalo.
In 1991 Desert Storm came and she recalled this conflict putting her at the Naval Academy Hospital in Maryland. Her final military experiences were the best. She enjoyed her tops fleet week in New York City. This week was put aside so the Navy tried to get as many ships and navy personnel together in one place so each one can show off their best. This was a chance for all the lifers to reunite and relive the old days when they served and just did their duty. On May 30, 2002, at Battery Park she participated in the Memorial ceremony to close Ground Zero.
If I were to have walked past Majkowski before meeting her and hearing her story I would have probably guessed that she was a mom, married and may have been a teacher or a nurse. She would have done the normal things in life such as camping and going to Disney World with her children and a trip or two to Hawaii or Las Vegas. But if I were told this lady was a Senior Chief in the U.S. Navy, I would have smiled and said sure. Boy, did I get educated and educated fast!
This lady walked the walk and she could talk the talk. She was all military and still loves this country dearly. This girl who wanted to have a steady job with benefits ended up with a naval title that warrants respect not only from all military personnel but from all us Americans. She took her life, found a career and took it to the top.
She now enjoys life in her Brocton home. Her husband Joseph is still working and is a high voltage lineman for the village of Brocton. This story of our Senior Chief makes Geralyn Majkowski is our Hero of the Week.