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‘Challenge accepted’: Alumna becomes commanding officer of Wounded Warriors Battalion

University of Redlands alumna Mary Kate Flatley '97 (left) receives the flag of the Wounded Warrior Battalion from her predecessor, marking her the battalion's new commanding officer. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Betzabeth Galvan)

During her final year at University of Redlands, Mary Kate Flatley ’97 was in the Naval Reserves, and she faced a pivotal moment: “There was a major in my unit, he was a Marine in the reserves, and he said to me, ‘You are getting commissioned in the Navy because you can’t handle the Marine Corps.’

“And I said: ‘Challenge accepted.’”

That very day, Flatley went to the officer selection office and asked to go to officer candidate school for the Marine Corps. “And my career in the Marines has taken me places that are phenomenal,” she says.

Two decades later, thanks to her work around the world within the Navy and Marine Corps, Lt. Col. Flatley has been named commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Battalion (West) at Camp Pendleton. Just 12 percent of those eligible are selected as commanding officers.

“I am very humbled,” she says of her new, two-year command; she’s responsible for about 265 Marines, Sailors, and civilians in the Western Hemisphere. “The recovering service members in the battalion are combat wounded, ill, and injured, and I’ve been selected to provide care for them. This is the perfect spot for me.”

The Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton facilitates the non-medical and medical care of both combat and non-combat personnel. Her staff includes recovery care coordinators, case managers, psychologists, medical officers, coaches, athletic trainers, and others, who focus on the needs of the mind, body, spirit, and family. “We have a whole team assigned to each wounded, ill, or injured Marine or Sailor,” says Flatley. “We provide services to help individuals either recover and go back to their unit or transition to the civilian sector.” The battalion provides support with finding civilian jobs and pursuing an education. 

Flatley’s own education helped chart her career: “I decided to go to Redlands because it was smaller and more personable, and I wanted to play basketball and softball and run cross country,” she says. Before enrolling at U of R’s College of Arts and Sciences, she had served in the Navy for eight years, as well as living in Argentina while on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I found I had an ease with speaking Spanish, so I decided to study it in college,” she says. “I also learned a lot about myself and about leadership while at Redlands.” Having completed officer candidate school the previous summer, she became a commissioned officer in the Marines the day she graduated from Redlands.

During her 22 years in the Marines, Flatley earned a Master of Arts in Education Instruction from Central Michigan University, and she has served in a variety of service and leadership positions across the nation and around the world, including a 13-month deployment in Iraq in from 2008 to 2009. She then moved to Madrid to study strategic and tactical war planning—programs taught in Spanish alongside military members from NATO and non-NATO nations.  

Now back in her native California and studying for a doctoral degree in psychology, she says she’s honored to serve her fellow Marines and Sailors in the Wounded Warrior Battalion. “My leadership philosophy is that of a servant leader,” says Flatley. “I charge those in the command to do five things on a daily basis beyond their normal duties: Find a Marine, Sailor, or civilian doing a good job and say ‘thank you’; find a problem and fix it; learn something; teach something; and ask ‘How can I help?’”

Flatley continues to accept challenges, living by the motto “Do right, and fear no one.” She elaborates, “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and don’t be afraid of doing the right thing.”

To read more about U of R’s alumni, go to the Alumni Stories web page.