Why She’s Amazing
Susan Upward doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to be more.
Major Susan E. Upward is originally from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is a 1993 graduate of Howe Military Academy (Indiana). She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Valparaiso University (Indiana) in 1997 and her Master of Arts in Military Studies from American Military University (Virginia) in 2010.
She received her green card and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004. After graduating from recruit training at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, she was stationed as a Personnel Clerk at Camp Johnson, North Carolina. She became a U.S. citizen in September 2004 and was selected to attend Officer Candidate School as part of the Enlisted Commissioning Program. In August 2005, she was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and was trained as an Air Support Control Officer.
While attached to Marine Air Support Squadron 3 at Camp Pendleton, California, from 2006 to 2009, Lieutenant Upward completed two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She served in a number of billets in a variety of locations, including as a Senior Air Director in the main Direct Air Support Center and Regimental Combat Team 5 Air Support Liaison Team’s Officer in Charge in Fallujah, and as the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Liaison Officer to the U.S. Army’s 6-17th Calvary Squadron in Tal Afar. In Garrison, Lieutenant Upward also served as the Squadron’s Adjutant and Legal Officer.
Captain Upward then moved to Chicopee, Massachusetts, where she served on Inspector-Instructor duty from 2009 to 2012 as the Operations Officer for Marine Air Support Squadron 6. She was selected to attend law school on the Excess Leave Law Program in 2012 and earned a Juris Doctor and a curriculum certificate in National Security and Counterterrorism Law from Syracuse University College of Law (New York) in May 2015. She was admitted to the New York State Bar in January 2016.
After completing Naval Justice School in March 2016, Major Upward moved to her current billet as a prosecutor at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.
Major Upward’s personal awards include the Army Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Gold Star.
We had a chance to ask Susan a few questions. We think you’ll agree that her intelligence, work ethic and determination are a powerful combination to make our world a better place!
“Be yourself, think for yourself – don’t let others dictate who you are or who you are going to be.
And never, ever give up!” – Major Susan Upward
Q & A
Q: When you were a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?
A: I think at one point I wanted to be a doctor, and then I wanted to go into business and then I wanted to be a pilot. I was all over the place. But, honestly, I was always drawn to the military, and I just knew that is where I would end up.
Q: What did people think when you told them that?
A: People always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I believed them!
Q: Did people call you “princess” when you were a little girl and, if so, how did that make you feel?
A: Although I don’t specifically remember anyone calling me princess, I’m sure people did. It seemed to be just one of the litany of things you called little girls then – princess, sweetheart, darling, etc. I don’t particularly remember feeling anything about the word itself, but I do remember being generally annoyed with people fawning over me for any reason, especially for just being a girl.
Q: How did you become interested in becoming a member of the Armed Forces?
A: Honestly, I don’t know – I just knew that’s what I wanted to do and what I was meant to do. I was drawn to the structure that the military provides, and I have always been drawn to be part of organizations where the whole is bigger than the individual. Growing up in Toronto, I was involved in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and I enjoyed the military aspect of that organization. I knew I wanted more, so I found an advertisement for Howe Military Academy, a military boarding school in Indiana. I told my mom that I wanted to apply, and I ended up getting a full scholarship to finish high school there. That path really solidified me becoming a Marine later in life.
Q: What did you have to do to accomplish this?
A: The road to becoming a Marine is not easy, but it is especially not easy for a Canadian! To enlist in the Marine Corps you must be a permanent resident of the United States (a.k.a. have a green card). I didn’t have any relatives in the United States, and I attended Howe Military and Valparaiso University on a student visa, so I would have to find a another way to get a green card. After college, Howe Military offered me a job as Assistant Director of Admissions, and they were generous enough to file for a temporary work visa for me to remain in the United States. Then, I had to file for a permanent work visa, which would eventually lead to a green card. The whole process took nine years! The day after I received my green card in July 2003, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I attended boot camp at Parris Island in February 2004 and became a U.S. citizen six months later.
Q: Did you have a mentor or role model who inspired you?
A: I definitely had role models and people that I looked up to – too many to count! I actually see people who inspire me every day. When I see someone – anyone really – doing an amazing thing, I always find myself saying “you go, girl!” or “atta boy!” And, it doesn’t have to be earth shattering – for instance, I run, so when I see people out running I always try to smile or wave because just being out there moving is an accomplishment to be celebrated, regardless of how fast or slow we are going. I’m inspired by everyday people every day.
Q: Did your family and friends support your aspirations?
A: Oh gosh yes! I’ve been incredibly blessed with friends who have been supportive each and every step along the way. The road just to become a Marine was a long one, but I had close friends who were with me and believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. They always knew, perhaps more than I did, that I was destined to be a Marine! And my family has been spectacular, especially my wonderful mother, who is my greatest mentor and role model. It wasn’t easy for my mom to say ok when her 15-year-old youngest daughter said, “I want to go to a different country to boarding school!” But, she let me go and has never stopped supporting my dreams, no matter how farfetched they may seem at the time. If I have become half of the woman my mother is, I will consider my life to be a success.
Q: Did you think about being called a “trailblazer” for choosing this path?
A: I don’t know if I’ve ever considered myself a trailblazer in anything! I’m just a girl who knew what she wanted to do, and I was hell bent that I wasn’t going to stop until I got where I wanted to go.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I like to challenge myself. I’m a strong believer that you only get one shot at life, so you better do it now. I believe that you will regret the things that you did not do far more than the things you actually did, so I’m trying to do everything I want to do. But, honestly, what really motivates me is when people tell me I can’t do something. Nothing gets my engine going more than someone telling me I’m not smart enough or strong enough or something else enough. That’s really when I flip the switch and get super motivated to prove them wrong.
Q: When you’re struggling or feeling deflated, what helps you to turn that around?
A: I use the mantra “I can and I will” when I’m running. Just saying that over and over again in my head helps me keeping going. And, sometimes, just relaxing – taking time for me and doing what I want to do helps me recharge my battery. I’m sometimes so focused on the next goal that I forget what I’ve accomplished and when I put that in perspective, whatever I’m facing at that moment never seems as bad.
Q: Of what are you most proud?
A: Earning the title of United States Marine. By far, becoming a Marine was my biggest challenge and of what I’m most proud. I often joke that the nine years it took me to even get to join the Marine Corps made the 13 weeks I spent in boot camp seem like a breeze! I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of accomplishments in my life, but that’s the one that’s at the top of my list.
Q: What would you like people to learn from you?
A: Don’t let other people define you! Only you can decide who you are and where you want to go. Be who you want to be and do want you want to do. That is the only way you can find true happiness.
Q: What three words would you like people to use to describe you?
A: Loyal. Hardworking. Friend.
Q: What do you want people to know about you outside of your military accomplishments?
A: People are always shocked to find out I sang opera growing up. In fact, for a time I thought that is what I was going to go do with my life instead of joining the military! I still love the theater.
Q: Given the choice, would you do it all again?
A: Absolutely. 100%. No regrets.
Q: Who do you follow on social media that shares your passion for serving our country?
A: I follow a lot of fellow servicemembers, but there are so many ways to serve our country – police and fireman, non-profit organizations, politicians, etc. I follow them all!
Q: If you could eat lunch with one person, whom would it be?
A: Don Cherry. Growing up in Canada, he was – and still is – the epitome of hockey. He has so many amazing stories, and I just love him. I actually play hockey, and I have Don Cherry painted on the side of my goalie mask. Sorry – probably not the best answer for a female “trailblazer,” but that’s honestly who I would pick!
Q: Which woman would you choose to have on U.S. currency?
A: Again, this may not be a popular answer, but none. I think the tradition of having deceased presidents on the currency is just fine. Once we have a female president, I’d have no problem putting her face on there.
Q: What advice would you give to a girl who right now wants to be just like you?
A: Be yourself, think for yourself – don’t let others dictate who you are or who you are going to be. And never, ever give up!
Bonus Question: What question would you ask the next Modern Day Trailblazer we interview?
A: Have you ever felt discriminated against because you are a woman, either overtly or inconspicuously?
- Susan is a NIGHT OWL. She has always hated mornings and says ask anyone who tried to get her to go to a morning class in college!
- Her brother sent her the last text message that she received.
- Susan’s favorite movie is The Lords of Discipline.
- She prefers chocolate over vanilla – chocolate with chocolate sprinkles, chocolate cookies and chocolate sauce! The more chocolate, the better.
- Susan’s favorite quote is “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”