Saturday was Senior Day for the women’s hockey team, and Ingalls Rink was filled with spectators — one of whom traveled more than 6,000 miles to be there.
Among a sea of spectators ready to watch the Bulldogs take on Cornell in Yale’s final home game of the season, one uniformed man stood out: Col. David Murphy, the father of Bulldog captain Caroline Murphy ’10. On a two-week leave from army duty in Afghanistan, the colonel made the trip to New Haven to watch his daughter play.
“When I heard he was going to try and make it back for the last two weeks of my season, I didn’t believe it for a second,” said Caroline, the family’s oldest daughter and a forward for the Bulldogs.
Slightly jet-lagged and only two days out of Afghanistan, David Murphy was making his first appearance at a Yale hockey game since before he left for Afghanistan in July. A deployment of more than nine months earns two weeks of “rest and relaxation,” said David — who, as the Department of Defense lead for threat finance in Afghanistan, works to stem the flow of finances to insurgent organizations . He said he opted to take time off now so he would not miss the end of Caroline’s hockey season. He will return to Afghanistan on Feb. 27.
But it wasn’t that simple. The colonel did not know whether his travel plans would hold up, and he was only certain he could make the trip to the United States — and most importantly, to Ingalls Rink — a couple of days before he left Afghanistan on Feb. 10.
Still, those doubts were long gone when he arrived in the U.S. on Thursday afternoon. He was honored during Saturday’s pregame ceremonies and sat beside Caroline’s mother, Lisa, as the Bulldogs battled the Big Red for three periods.
While the Elis fell to Cornell 1–0, the loss was a minor blemish on the Murphy family’s reunion. Lisa, David and Caroline joined the rest of the team for a reception after the game, before heading out for a family dinner at the restaurant Heirloom. Parents and players from Yale and Cornell alike crowded around to meet the colonel and offer their congratulations on his return.
“Caroline’s mom was, you could tell, just really happy,” said Denise Soesilo ’10, a close friend and former teammate of Caroline. “And he was obviously really tired because he was jet-lagged and a million people were trying to talk to him.”
For his part, David said it is “surreal” to have returned from Afghanistan, even just for two weeks.
“In the back of your mind are the men and women who are working with you or who you’ve worked with and are still in harm’s way, so it’s a great privilege to be here,” he said.
A FATHER-DAUGHTER BOND
Reuniting at the post-game reception Saturday, Caroline gave her father a critical looking-over. Physically, the five-foot, 10-inch colonel is still in great shape. He has lost 20 pounds since being deployed, and Caroline swears his hair looks less gray. But she knows she is still speedier.
“He was joking, and he said ‘I bet I can outrun you now,’ ” Caroline said. “No. He can’t. He still can’t.”
Caroline’s father taught her to skate backwards at age 4, picking her up and whipping her around on the ice, Caroline said. She started playing hockey at age 9 because of her father’s love for the sport. She joined the Connecticut Polar Bears, a club team for high school players, as a young teenager, and her mother and father split time driving her to practices and games about four times each week.
This coming Saturday, David will drive 130 miles to Princeton to watch Caroline compete against the Tigers in her final regular season game for Yale. The Bulldogs are clinging to playoff hopes after splitting last weekend’s home games with a 3–1 win against Colgate but their 1–0 loss to Cornell. Tied with Dartmouth for eighth place in the conference — the final spot that earns a berth to the ECAC playoffs in late February — Yale must pull ahead to claim a postseason ticket.
“My dad has always been my biggest advocate,” Caroline said. “Usually I’m the one who’s too self-deprecating or not confident enough, and he’ll get mad at me and say, ‘No, you can do this.’ ”
The Bulldog captain said she has nothing but admiration, pride and love for her father. She describes him as having a quiet but intense demeanor, earning respect from everyone he meets.
“He’s very down to earth,” Caroline said. “All my friends that have met him have remarked to me how easy he is to talk to, considering that other adjectives used to describe him have been ‘badass,’ because when he shows up wearing his uniform, he looks kind of intimidating.”
Caroline added that her father instilled strong morals in her and her siblings. Growing up, they were forbidden from wearing hats at dinner, instructed to stand at attention for the flag and endowed with the value of respect.
“One thing I’ve taken from him is that he’s very interested in the other person, so he cares about the other person’s story — what motivates them, what drives them — and that means a lot to people, to have someone care,” she said. “I try to emulate that as much as possible.”
WAITING AND WORRYING
David, who also works as the New England Regional manager for the wealth management division of TD Bank, had known since February 2009 that he would be leaving for Afghanistan this past summer, having voluntarily agreed to the assignment. He told his family about the impending deployment at the end of February of last year.
David graduated from Norwich University, the nation’s second oldest military school, in 1982 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation. He has been with the armed services since that time, previously serving overseas in Egypt, Bulgaria, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, among other places.
Since leaving for Afghanistan, the colonel’s contact with his family has been consistent but limited. He talks to his wife, Lisa, every other or third day, and he tries to speak with his three children — Caroline, 18-year old Molly and 14-year old Christopher — about once a week. But a nine and a half hour time difference between Afghanistan and the East Coast — the family lives in Woodstock, Conn. — makes phone calls difficult.
“It was really hard for him to call me because of work,” said Lisa, who works as a substitute teacher in Connecticut. The two ultimately set up a system in which David calls her at 11 p.m. EST — just when he gets into the office and right before she heads off to sleep.
Still, the change has been tough for Lisa, especially as her three children are now all living either at college or boarding school.
“I went from a life of being home and watching kids play sports constantly to having no one home, living with two deranged cats, and living through e-mails and Skype and phone calls,” she said.
And the communication methods the family uses are not perfect. Caroline said the e-mails she sends her father are usually delayed several days before arriving, and he often cannot tell the family much about his activities. When David called Caroline on her birthday in September, it was only the second time she had spoken to him since his deployment.
The lack of frequent contact has often left the Murphys worried about the safety of their overseas family member, Caroline said.
“There have been a couple of scary moments,” she said. “At the beginning of the summer, there was a huge bombing … A couple of days later, my dad sends an e-mail saying ‘Big boom — I’m fine.’ ”
But the Eli captain has taken it all in stride. The Morse College student has notched eight goals this season — the fourth most of everyone on the team — and balances her athletic commitment with schoolwork as a history of science, history of medicine major.
Caroline also makes sure her father can keep up with the team, sending him DVDs of games so that life in Afghanistan does not lack the family tradition of ice hockey, which all three children play.
Head coach Hilary Witt said she is impressed with how Caroline has handled her father’s absence.
“She’s done a really good job in not letting it affect her performance in all her roles at Yale,” Witt said. “Murphy has come a long way since she first got here. She didn’t play as much as she probably would have liked, but she kept fighting through, and to go from there to captain is quite an accomplishment.”