CLAYTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — The alarm goes off early for Jeff and Julie Garnsey.
The two live outside of Clayton, New York on an animal farm. In the early morning hours, Jeff can usually be found in one of his barns feeding some of the over seventy animals him and Julie have rescued.
After farm duties, the two head out to their respective jobs on the St. Lawrence River and in Clayton.
This constantly moving lifestyle is normal for the couple, and not too different from their time serving in the U.S. Navy. Both entered within a year of graduating high school on opposite sides of the country.
Julie said she was inspired to enlist by her father, who served in the Navy for 22 years.
“I really didn’t plan on staying in for 24 years,” Julie said. “My plan was to go in, get some college education, having the Navy pay for my education and then get out. And then after the first few years, it was a lot of fun. So I just saw this opportunity.”
She went on to become a Naval Hospital Corpsman, serving for many years alongside the Marines all over the world.
“When we pulled lines and we were at sea, it was about us taking care of the entire ship,” she explained. “There was no doctor, we just did what had to be done. Anywhere from somebody man overboard, or somebody gets injured, or you have a diagnosis from just looking at the person because you don’t really have much.”
In a short time, she quickly became a natural leader, as many, including top Naval officers, called her “Doc.”
“When the captain would see me coming down the passageway, he would stop for me and be like ‘C’mon, I know you’re doing something Doc.’ Especially if I had my bad on me, people stepped aside for you because you’re the one that’s going there to take care of them.”
Julie explained that there are still people she knows that call her “Doc.” This helped her career take off. As she worked on some of the top navy ships in the world, she said she quickly realized the barriers she could overcome.
“When you have that kind of authority, you don’t abuse it, but you use it correctly and you get that respect,” Julie stressed. “It gives you the confidence to do anything you want to do.”
The same year Julie joined the Navy, Jeff, a local kid from Clayton said he was encouraged to enlist after seeing an advertisement for the latest submarine.
“It was the U.S.S. Ohio, it was the first of the Trident submarines. And I though, ‘that’s it, tha’ts what I’m going to do.’ There was no more planning than that,” he shared.
Following recruitment, he had the opportunity to go to Naval Submarine School. Jeff found success and was one of three to graduate out of his class of twelve.
He was then assigned to the USS Trepang, a fast attack submarine based out of Groton, Connecticut, which holds the longest endurance record under the polar ice cap to-date.
“We spent ten months out of the year at sea,” he shared. “We had things that I never, ever thought I would have the opportunity to do. I got my dolphin standing on the North Pole with the Chief of Naval Operations after we did 97 consecutive days under the ice.”
“A Clayton kid getting to do something like that was unimaginable,” he added.
This sparked passion in the young sailor and he spent nine years at sea. Jeff was eventually assigned to shore duty, which he approached in the same manner.
“In the Navy, you go at it 100%. You got at it like it’s the only job in the world and it never disappointed,” Jeff shared.
Halfway through both Jeff and Julie’s Naval careers, when they both held chief ranking, their stories crossed paths while working at the Bureau for Naval Affairs in Tennesee.
The two quickly became a Naval “power couple.” After working at the Bureau, they had the opportunity to write their next orders, taking them both to Hawaii.
Julie was assigned to the U.S.S. Port Royal, the newst Naval cruiser, and Jeff was assigned to the newest fast-attack submarine, 2nd flight 688. They had high hopes as they expected to be on the same deployment cycle over the course of three years.
But like many, when 9/11 happened, things changed and ended up on opposite cycles, only seeing each other for a few days at times.
“My ship got short stroked and sent to sea,” Julie explained. “So we spent the first three years tag teaming.”
But because of their committment to service, they were able to push forward and come out stronger.
“It’s mission,” Julie stressed. “It doesn’t make it any easier, you don’t like it, but you understand it because soon you’re going to be on the other side of that. So I think it’s a little easier to understand that, that this is what we signed up to do.”
The Garnsey’s service proving successful when their son Joshua enlisted in the Navy and eventually being stationed with his parents in paradise.
“Nothing measures up to the feeling of pride when your family member does something,” Jeff shared. “Seeing our son walk across the brow of his first ship, that was the thing that eclipsed everything. Because you knew that even though you missed all that, that you did something that caught his eye and now he’s in your footprints.”
During this time, Jeff made Master Chief in 2006 which only 1% of the Navy achieves. Speaking of this made him emotional as he explained the honor he felt.
“You’d walk onto a ship and they may acknoledge the captain, but they were going to speak to the master chief. And when and admiral came to the boat, these admirals were guys you were an ensign. Then 20 years later, they were a three star.”
Jeff continued in this role for three years. Julie retired as a highly decorated Naval Hospital Corpsman in 2006 and Jeff joined her a few years later to retire in a new paradise: Clayton, New York.
The Garnsey’s now continue their busy lives in Clayton. Jeff owns a boating and fishing charter company and Julie serves as the Executive Director at the Clayton Opera House. The two also own and operate a non-profit animal sanctuary where they rescue beings of all shapes and sizes.
Both said they are making it their mission to help the next generation find help serve their communities.
“The military is easy to say, ‘I served in the military.’ But there are all kinds of opportunities like that to serve. And there’s examples that you set as an adult, showing the next generation that service to the community is important because, after all, we’re one family,” Julie expressed.
Jeff said this starts with finding a passion, whether it’s fishing on the river, loving animals or just giving back.
“People are always saying, ‘when I was a kid, I was out on the river with my dad.’ You just relight that little spark or you plant the seed that maybe that animal isn’t just a product,” he shared. “Every little decision that we make that’s about us, has a much, much larger impact. So try it, and you’ll find your niche and you’ll find your reason to shake off the cobwebs at 4:30 in the morning and get up.”