Ashley Bozeman is happier when she’s doing things she can truly believe in, whether that means she’s training dogs at Ray’s Hope: Rescue to Rescue, working with the horses at Blue Star Ranch or singing for veterans at the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Long Beach.
That mentality is exactly what led her to joining the U.S. Navy, because at 16, she believed in the importance of serving her country.
Bozeman was born on July 8, 1989, in Covina, California. Her parents split when she was 2 — her mom stayed in California and her dad moved to Hawaii to be close to his father.
Throughout her childhood, she and her siblings spent the school year with her mom and visited her dad in the summer.
She has always loved horses, and in Hawaii, remembers riding Rocky, an old show horse who she considered her own, Beau and Kalaheo, her father’s horses.
Bozeman said she had a great childhood, and she’s very blessed to have her family.
“We’re spread apart (across the map), but I’m really lucky in a lot of ways to have them,” she added. “My family was always extremely patriotic, and I was always taught to stand up for what’s right and stand strong.”
She described her mother, Vivien Collins, as full of love and squared away.
She was also very close to her grandparents and would walk to their house after school — they played a big part in raising her.
“God, family and true friends are the reason why I am as strong as I am today,” Bozeman added.
At 16, Bozeman already knew she wanted to serve her country, so with the help of her father, who signed the papers, she joined the Navy in the Delayed Entry Program.
By the time Bozeman turned 18 and was ready to begin active duty in 2007, she had recruited three others to also join (all of whom are doing well and stayed in the service), and as a result, entered as an E-2, with the promise of a promotion to E-3 seaman after boot camp.
She began as a machinist mate on the USS Ronald Regan, working on the hydraulics on the aircraft elevators, steering units and arresting gear.
“I miss the smell of wire rope grease so much,” she said, laughing. “That was my first job, then I switched to outside repair, which was working on the fire pumps and the vertical package conveyors.”
On her first deployment, Bozeman was in honor guard, a group that typically does a ceremonial drill and presentation of the colors during burials at sea, and remembers performing for another country at port as they played the “Top Gun Anthem.”
“I’ll never forget that,” she said, smiling.
The USS Ronald Regan’s motto was “peace through strength,” so they were always volunteering for deployments and different trips, and Bozeman ended up going to various places during her time on the ship, such as Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Dubai and Bahrain, but one deployment still sticks out.
In the last year of her enlistment, Bozeman transferred to security on temporary assigned duty, and it was around the same time that her ship was sent on a deployment to Korea.
On March 11, 2011, Japan was devastated by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster — the most significant nuclear incident since Chernobyl.
Following the accident, the USS Ronald Regan moved to the east coast of Honshu, and ended up being in the first response to Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. Armed Forces assistance operation to support Japan in disaster relief.
The ship served as a refueling platform for Japan’s helicopters that were transporting their troops to disaster areas, as well as the group’s own helicopters that helped to ferry over tons of food, water, blankets, clothing and medical supplies for distribution in Japan.
It was snowing at that time, and Bozeman remembers how cold it was as they were anchored near the coast.
“We were helo-ing over supplies, and we looked out at the water, it looked like you could walk to the land — anything and everything you could think of was floating out there,” she said.
The sailors were also sending their own supplies, and Bozeman said she brought out a bunch of socks, thinking of her father, who used to tell her, “Why do you take care of your feet? Because they carry you throughout life.”
“I’m still really proud of this deployment, even though it changed everything,” she said.
The ship remained in the area for about a month before they were relieved, and the Reagan continued on its original course. When it reached Guam, Bozeman was flown back as her enlistment was near its end. She was honorably discharged on Sept. 11, 2011.
Bozeman had a rough time readjusting when she first returned home, and it took her a few years to find her way.
She’s still extremely close to her mother, who she said is one of her main “lighthouses” and helped to put her back together when she was extremely broken.
Eventually, she moved back home to Covina to be with her family. She then began taking classes at Citrus College, working toward her associate’s degree in math, biology and physical science.
It was when she was working at the Veterans Success Center at Citrus College under the veteran coordinator Dr. Monica Christianson’s wing as a veteran mentor when everything began to fall into place, because that was where she met U.S. Air Force veteran Julie Hollowell, who led her to Ray’s Hope: Rescue to Rescue, a nonprofit that provides veterans in need with critical resources to help them get back on their feet.
Last year, Bozeman moved to Santa Clarita to be a part of Ray’s Hope — which pairs veterans with rescue dogs — as she knew she could really help out, and she said it’s been rewarding working with the dogs.
“It’s really awesome to see that change and see that spark (in them),” she said.
Ray’s Hope sent her to Blue Star Ranch, which provides equine therapy for veterans.
“I tried to go through therapy at the VA, and nothing would ever work,” Bozeman said. “But honestly having both of those, it really hit home for me and helped me in so many different ways.”
Now, Bozeman volunteers at the ranch, and said founder Nancy Zhe is teaching her a lot. Together they’re trying to get equine therapy approved by the VA, and Bozeman has even spoken to Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, about this while on a panel of female veterans.
She is still working with Ray’s Hope and hopes to one day open her own branch of the organization.
“I felt so lucky to have come here, and I love this town,” she said.
She said she especially loves the local expressions of patriotism, how the flags that run along various roads and bridges are lit up at night, adding, “It gives you chills.”
Bozeman wears many different hats, and is constantly running around to the various organizations she’s become a part of, but she said that’s what makes her happy.
She believes Ray’s Hope and Blue Star Ranch are a “winning combination, and they’re just getting started.”
She has also begun singing with Welcome Home, a band that typically plays at the VA in Long Beach, after meeting band founder, Army Ranger and Purple Heart recipient Hector Valdivia.
“I was this big chicken about singing — I wouldn’t even really sing in front of my family,” she said. “Going in there and playing with them, to see the smiles on (the veterans’) faces and just changing people’s days for the better — that’s what helps me, too.”
It was the music that helped to bring in veterans for assistance, which Bozeman said was amazing.
Just two weeks ago, Bozeman finished school, graduating with her associate’s degree. And though her grandmother has emphysema with only 20% function of one lung, she still made it out to Bozeman’s graduation, as she believed in her so much.
Bozeman still has a lot of dreams to help her fellow veterans, including helping to bring more VA services to Hawaii, furthering equine therapy as an option for veterans at the VA and opening a Ray’s Hope training facility for veterans.
She also plans to continue in school and, hopefully, move out to Hawaii to be with her dad.
“I just want to spend some time with him.”