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McKinney North grad serves on USS Enterprise's final deployment
Photo courtesy of Catherine Clark - McKinney North High School grad Megan Clark worked in the air tower aboard the USS Enterprise, which recently ended its 25th and final deployment. It was the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet.
McKinney is home to a small portion of a very large, nuclear-powered piece of American history.
Megan Clark, a 2007 McKinney North High School graduate, earlier this month returned from duty aboard the eighth USS Enterprise, the storied U.S. ship on its 25th and final deployment.
Dubbed "Big E," the aircraft carrier was the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Naval fleet.
"I'm definitely honored to be on the last voyage," said Clark, who in June will complete five years of service in the Navy. "It was the experience of a lifetime."
Indeed, several lifetimes for a ship name that in the U.S. Navy's eyes "has been a continuing symbol of the great struggle to retain American liberty, justice and freedom since the first days of the American Revolutionary War." The Enterprise line has spanned more than two centuries, the first edition from 1775 when Benedict Arnold captured a 70-ton British ship and originated the title.
Prowess behind the name has come a long way, from four-pound carriage guns and swivels to nearly 61,000 tons of steel and eight nuclear reactors - the latter just two of the latest Enterprise's many awing dimensions.
Congress authorized construction of Enterprise VIII (CVN 65) in 1954, after 900 shipyard engineers and designers created the ship's blueprints that, laid end-to-end, would have stretched from Miami to Los Angeles, according to U.S. Navy figures. Almost four years later, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was complete.
It was dispatched to its first international crisis in 1962 when it and the Second Fleet blockaded military shipments and helped end the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the ship aborted its return from deployment and churned overnight to the North Arabian Sea, and expended more than 800,000 pounds of ordnance over coming weeks during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Clark's role in Enterprise history began to take shape in 2008 when she joined the Navy, eager for something new.
"Just to see the world and for the experience," she said of her enlistment. "No one in my family's been in the Navy or military, so I wanted to do something different."
In the Scott Johnson Middle School and McKinney North band from sixth grade on, Clark's lone preparation for military life was marching in step. Her clarinet was a far cry from a rifle and bayonet.
"We trained numerous amounts of hours, all day," Clark said. "We were the face of the Navy, so we had to look good and be presentable."
Her first command, in Washington D.C., consisted of ceremonies and funerals. She was at President Barack Obama's 2009 Inauguration, there to honor past presidents, when Obama walked right past her.
After four months with a deployable squadron, Clark spent two and a half years handling military personnel. Then came her fourth command, a choice between two ships.
"I chose Enterprise because it was its last deployment, and it was deploying right away," she said. "I wanted to serve my country one last time before I get out."
On March 10 this year, a few months after celebrating its 50th year on foreign seas, Enterprise VIII deployed for the last time. Her rank at Aviation Boatswain's Mate-Handling (ABH), Clark worked up in the ship's air tower, serving as extra eyes for aircraft departures and landings.
While she was on the ship, it ported in Greece, Bahrain, Dubai and Italy, among other places. Clark spent the latter part of deployment as ship security, carrying a 9-mm handgun, OC spray, handcuffs and a baton for eight-hour shifts every day. Security was the only crew on deck as Enterprise passed through foreign straits.
"We secured the ship," said Clark, other times equipped with an M16 rifle. "If people were to attack the ship, we'd be there to defend it."
The ship returned to its home port in Norfolk, Va., a few weeks ago. Last Friday, Clark made it back to McKinney, her civilian home, for the first time in nine months. She got to see her parents and son, Joseph, in person instead of via Skype.
She left for Virginia again this weekend to begin her final stint with the Navy; then, through the GI Bill, she plans to attend Texas Tech or Texas A&M University. She says military life taught her "discipline and what America's all about," and hopes to use such values in her pursuit to one day be a teacher or open her own daycare.
"It's all about commitment to the job at hand," Clark said. "If something's going on that I don't like, I can push myself to do it and get through it."
What will likely stick with her the most, though, is the Enterprise. She isn't just a piece of that history.
She protected it.
"To travel around the world was awesome," she said. "Few others can say they've done what I did."