A call to serve runs deep in Ray Trembley. The Selma native served for a decade as an electrician’s mate on a U.S. Navy submarine. Now enrolled at Fresno Pacific University, he has been a student leader.
He’ll soon close the chapter on his university career, but his drive to serve is unabated: he wants to treat the sick as a physician in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Trembley and his fellow Fresno Pacific graduates — the largest class ever, at 570 — will earn their diplomas Friday. It will be a bittersweet moment for Trembley, one full of gratitude to the grandparents who raised him, to those who mentored him at Fresno Pacific, to his girlfriend for supporting him.
“(Just like) when I left the Navy, I felt like there were other things I could be doing here,” he said. “I feel like there’s just so much here I can give, but it’s my time to move on.”
A Selma boy to a military man
Trembley, 31, spent most of his early years living with his grandparents, Jane and Joe Trembley in Selma. It was “a difficult place to grow up.” Crime was high, “gang violence was all over the place.”
But his grandparents raised him right. They taught him about integrity. About the value of working for what you want. He didn’t have to go to college to make it, they said, but he had to be successful at whatever he chose to do.
Like many of his classmates, the opportunities promised by a career in the military were too good to pass up. He’d travel the world, learn new skills, earn good money and eventually collect college benefits through the GI Bill.
Trembley and several of his buddies signed up right out of high school.
“I left because I wanted to pave my own way in my life,” he said. “They left because they wanted out.”
But the year was 2001.
“I enlisted right before 9/11 and shipped right after,” he said. Trembley was “full of the hope any millennial had. And then we went to war.”
He trained for two years before beginning work as a submarine nuclear reactor operator on the USS Memphis. He doesn’t reveal details about his missions, but will say that he’s traveled to more than 20 countries, was deployed three times and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He’ll also tell you about being underwater for days, one time for 97 in a row off the coast of Somalia. Another time his sub was under the North Pole when a fire broke out. Eight feet of sea ice between the submarine and the surface kept it underwater. He had to don an emergency air mask as crews put out the flames.
“Life on the submarine was very challenging. Things break, you’ve got to fix them or you die,” he said. Nothing he’d face in the future would ever be as tough as that.
Making his own way
But returning to civilian life after a decade of military service had its own challenges.
Trembley felt a new calling to become a doctor but had a long path ahead. First, he needed to go to college.
Enrolling at Fresno Pacific was the perfect homecoming. After going around the world and back again, he was ready to spend time with his grandparents. He would study biology. Get in, get out, and get on with the rest of his life, he thought.
It became so much more than that.
“Every opportunity I’ve seen here, I’ve tried to take,” he said. He has overseen student clubs, including the pre-medicine club, won a prestigious award for his abstract on ways to target cancer in children with leukemia, and was invited to present his research at a national conference in New Orleans.
Dr. Dean Lee, researcher and medical doctor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, oversaw Trembley’s research during a summer internship. Trembley’s work ethic impressed him.
“It’s a challenging experience because most of the time (the interns are) coming in with barely two years of college and suddenly they’re learning graduate-level immunology,” Lee said.
Trembley also stood out among the students at Fresno Pacific, chemistry and physics professor Steve Pauls said. Trembley took Pauls’ class and later worked for him as a teaching assistant. It was then that Pauls learned about Trembley’s experience in the Navy.
“The easy way out would have been to turn what he learned in the Navy into a profession ... instead, he’s gone back to school and is going to go to medical school,” Pauls said. “It speaks volumes of his character.”
During college, Trembley also continued building his faith.
He became a Christian in 2010 while he was serving in the Navy, a time when he felt little encouragement to practice his faith. After months inside a sub, he and his colleagues only wanted freedom: to relax, drink, sometimes have “degenerate behavior,” he said. During college, he found his connection to God through the Catholic church.
Now, just days from commencement, Trembley says he already has another graduation day to look toward. A day when he graduates from medical school and becomes a doctor. He’s spending the summer applying to schools in the West and Midwest, but promises to come back to the Valley to practice once he delivers on his dream.
“Fresno is one of the most underserved areas for primary-care doctors. Not only do I have an interest, but I see the need,” he said. “I want to come back to the Valley. Absolutely.”