Asbury United Methodist Church, Cinnaminson, NJ
Thursday, February 25, 2021

Asbury Veteran: Mary Soderholm

Navy veteran

Mary Solderholm todayMary (Klebes) Soderholm was born in Natick, MA but grew up in Cinnaminson, NJ.  She has six older brothers and a younger sister.  When she was a teenager she remembers a surprise visit home from the Navy by her brother Larry.  She opened the door to see him impressively dressed in his dress white Navy uniform.  The excitement of seeing her brother and the impact of this image would later lead her to choose the Navy over the other services.  When asked why she joined the Navy, Mary said “To break out of my shy shell and see the world,” both of which she accomplished.


In 1981, after a year of community college Mary decided to join the Navy and was sent to Orlando, FL for 8 weeks of recruit training (boot camp).  She got to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas that year with 70 plus other woman, what an experience!  After graduating boot camp she was assigned to Class “A” school at the Naval Technical Training Center in Pensacola, FL to become a Cryptologic Technician (Communications) Operator.  She learned to transmit, receive and process all forms of communication associated with automated systems.  She processed messages using teletypewriter equipment and state-of-the art computer systems. 


Upon graduating from school, Seaman Apprentice Klebes was assigned to the Naval Communications Unit in London, England for a 3 year tour.  She worked just around the corner from the American Embassy and supported 60 command units.  Shift work was difficult, but working two 12 hour days, two 12 hour nights and then getting 4 days off allowed her to visit the sights.  Her adventures included visiting the Isle of Wight, Paris, Germany and Switzerland.  While stationed in London, Mary took night courses and earned an Associates Degree from the University of Maryland.  Her favorite class was a history course which had her trekking around London visiting old historical sites, castles, churches and the famous pubs.


In November 1985, when her tour of duty was complete she and her then husband were discharged from active duty and moved back to NJ.  Mary decided to continue with the reserves and began her duty at the Naval Reserve Center, located at the Philadelphia Ship Yard.  She worked in a 4 person communication center.  Reserve duty requires drilling one weekend a month and an additional 2 weeks a year for various active duty for training opportunities.


When job prospects took her to MD in 1987, she joined the Naval Space Surveillance Center (NAVSPASUR) in Dahlgren, VA which later became part of the Naval Space Command.  She lived in MD for 5 years and had two children before returning once again to Cinnaminson.  She then commuted to Dahlgren for the remainder of her reserve career.


Mary had many adventures during her Navy career and earned three Navy Achievement Medals for her dedication.  Some of her adventures included:

  • Participation in global war game simulations at the Naval War College in Newport News, RI.
  • Attendance at the Naval Space symposium in Houston, TX with tours of NASA’s space shuttle training facilities.
  • Support of the Naval Space symposium in Cape Canaveral, FL with the highlight of seeing the space shuttle Discovery launch.
  • Attendance at the Joint Space Intelligence Operations Course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs, CO with a tour of Cheyenne Mountain.
  • Selected as NR NAVSPASUR 1990 Sailor of the Year.
  • Recall to active duty for 3 months in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm assigned to the Special Intelligence Communication Center, Dahlgren, VA
  • Multi Spectral Imaging Interpretation training for Naval Space Command Dahlgren, VA.

Mary and Randy met while they were both stationed at the reserve center in Dahlgren, VA.  Mary doesn’t recall much about Randy during the early years.  She spent most of her time behind closed doors in the communication center.  Later they would cross paths more often during command meetings and when Mary became the Annual Training Coordinator and Career Counselor for the unit.  She does remember though, him carrying a binder which had pictures drawn by his kids in the front of the binder and notes about everything important at the reserve unit.  He was the officer with the knowledge.  It was not until after his retirement ceremony, at a social event to congratulate him that a more casual friendship began.  Over the years of commuting back and forth between NJ and VA for drill weekends she would often stop for a visit. First they talked about the reserves and their growing children, then as the years past they’d talk about the future together.


With 21 years of combined active and reserve duty, Petty Officer First Class Mary Soderholm retired from the Navy in December 2004.  She misses the camaraderie of the men and woman she worked with and the adventures.  She’s proud to have served and if given a chance would volunteer to do it still today.


Mary currently works as an operations manager at a local financial planning firm in Voorhees, NJ.  She gets to use all her organization and administrative skills she learned in the Navy.