Editor's note: This story is part of our Salute to Service coverage, Nov. 1–11. Learn about the schedule of events.
When Marissa Flores talked to her mother in late September, her mom mentioned that it was still 100 degrees in the Valley.
Flores was envious. She’s a desert rat, born and raised in Phoenix. She loves the heat and admits that when the temperature gets under 50 degrees, “I’m miserable.”
The day of their phone call, the temperature in South Korea was in the low 50s.
Sometimes, the chills are the price you pay for a career.
Flores (pictured above, far left), who graduated from Arizona State University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, is stationed in Dongducheon, South Korea, as a first lieutenant promotable in the Army.
She is the clinic nursing officer in charge at Camp Casey Soldier Centered Medical Home, which provides primary care for approximately 1,750 active-duty service members, veterans and their beneficiaries. Flores also assists with the clinic’s overall operations and its multidisciplinary serves, including radiology, optometry and physical therapy.
That Flores wound up being a Sun Devil — and a nurse — isn’t surprising. Her grandmother, great-grandmother and father attended ASU. Flores briefly thought about leaving the Phoenix area to go to college but decided to stay home and be close to family.
As for nursing, well, Flores’ mom is a nurse. Like mother, like daughter.
“I’ve always had an interest in the medical field,” Flores said. “I thought about physical therapy, but I settled in nursing. I like working with people, and I like the cool medical stuff.”
What Flores didn’t have was a way to pay for college. That’s where the Army came in. Joining the military satisfied three of Flores’ passions. She loves being part of a team — she has played sports since she was a young girl — staying fit is important to her and she has the travel bug.
“I would say I’m a worldly person,” Flores said. “I’ve always loved just getting to meet new people and explore new places. So, I thought, ‘Well, the Army will pay for my schooling, they’ll pay for me to travel and I’ll get to be a nurse. That sounds like a good gig to me.”
Flores took the first step in her career when she joined ASU’s Army ROTC unit as a cadet. But she didn’t have a scholarship when she enrolled, so she paid for her freshman year.
That was the last time college was on her. Flores was one of three ROTC cadets who then earned a three-year scholarship.
How did she do it?
By doing everything she could.
“The Army ROTC were looking at things like my GPA but also not just having the typical college experience,” Flores said. “I was very involved with the program. I did color guard, where we present the flag at events, whether it’s the 9/11 memorial event or (ASU) home games.
“I also participated in the Ranger Challenge, which is a competition that’s held every year among the ROTC programs throughout the universities in the U.S. I volunteered a lot, so if there was a random opportunity to go, say, help at the food bank or help clean up an area, I was there.”
Flores was hopeful the Army would send her to Germany. She had visited the country as a high school student, and the history buff in her loved touring all the World War II sites. She entered the Army’s AIM Marketplace, which allows officers to compete against their peers for positions all around the world.
Flores went through a month of interviews and was told she would be heading to Germany.
Then the Army sent her to South Korea.
“I’ve been wanting to be an Army nurse in Europe since the beginning,” Flores said. “I don’t care how I get there and what I do. I just wanted to be in Europe and be a nurse. That’s it. That’s my goal in life.
“So, when I got to Korea, I was a little heartbroken.”
The heartbreak turned out to be, as Flores said, “a blessing in disguise.” She said she has been able to grow as a soldier, leader and nurse in a way she didn’t expect, thanks to her role as the nurse in charge of a clinic.
“Uncle Sam has done a very good job of reminding me to be humble and happy wherever I am,” Flores said. “A lot of my peers who are captains told me, ‘I understand this isn’t what you wanted, but this is a great opportunity to develop.’ I really, truly see that now. I think I have definitely grown a lot within the last six months.”
Flores, who will be promoted to captain in September 2023, has six months left on her tour in South Korea. She will soon start the process again of entering the AIM Marketplace and hoping the Army will see it her way and send her to Europe.
Eventually, she said, she’ll likely rejoin civilian life. But for now, serving with the military is her calling.
“(Becoming a civilian) is always an option, and I definitely think about it on the tougher days,” Flores said. “But as of right now, the Army has treated me really well.
“It’s like most things. You’re going to get out of it however much you put into it.”
Top photo: ASU alum Marissa Flores (far left) with other members of the Camp Casey Soldier Centered Medical Home in South Korea.
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