Maria Felger Wayne was born in Van Wert, Ohio in 1964. She grew up there as part of a large family, and matriculated at Ball State University with a scholarship for diving, intending to enter the military as an officer upon graduation.
During her sophomore year of college, Wayne suffered an accident and left the diving team. She left school to enlist in the army and completed basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in transportation at Fort Eustis, Virginia. She then received notice from Ball State University’s Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) that she was eligible for an ROTC scholarship. Wayne re-enrolled and completed college as an ROTC cadet. During her senior year of college, Wayne also married and had her first child.
Upon graduation, Wayne went to Officer Training School, again at Fort Eustis, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia, for Airborne School. Her first duty station was Fort Ord, California, and from there, she was deployed to Panama as a second lieutenant with her platoon for Operation Nimrod Dancer, which took place in 1989. Soon after, Wayne also went to Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Wayne began having increasing health problems which were eventually diagnosed as lupus, which caused her to move from the army to reserve duty.