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Meet the first female Marine assigned to fly the F-35C
Erie, Pennsylvania native 1st Lt. Catherine Stark earned her wings Friday at a ceremony in Kingsville, Texas, and in doing so became the first female Marine to be assigned to the U.S. Navy's F-35C fleet replacement squadron.
The F-35 Lightning II, designed and built by Lockheed Martin, is a fifth-generation fighter designed to replace the F-18 in the Navy and Marine Corps and the F-22 in the U.S. Air Force. Of the three models, the F-35C is designed specifically to take off and land on aircraft carriers.
Stark, 24, is a 2012 Mercyhurst Preparatory School graduate and the daughter of Bud and Beata Stark of Erie. She will soon begin training to fly the F-35C Lightning II at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California.
"It's incredible," Bud Stark said of his daughter. "She's just an amazing girl. She's got all areas covered."
Catherine Stark said the military has been training experienced F-18 pilots to fly the F-35 since its deployment.
"Up until now they were only taking F-18 pilots that were already out in the fleet, someone with a lot of experience, and they were sending them back to school for six months and then transitioning them to the F-35," she said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "But recently, they've been picking people right out of flight school (for the F-35). That's been the special thing. Up until now, people fresh out of flight school with no fleet experience — like myself; I haven't been to a squadron yet because I just finished flight school — we didn't have the opportunity to select the F-35."
Stark and another classmate were the first Marines chosen for the F-35C upon completion of flight school.
"And I guess you could tack on that, because I'm a woman, by virtue I guess I'm the first woman picked to fly the F-35C for the Marine Corps," she said. "I've been blessed to get picked up for the F-35 Charlie. I don't want to downplay it, but I don't think it's that big of a deal."
Beata Stark says her daughter has been modest about the accomplishment but shouldn't be.
"She was evaluated by merit, not by gender," she said. "She had to meet the same standards to pass as everyone else. So, we're proud, we're grateful."
Catherine Stark graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Marine officer in 2016. She spent about 18 months in flight school before earning her Wings of Gold — the insignia worn by naval aviators — on Friday.
Stark spent her first six months of flight school training on the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II and then advanced to the aircraft carrier-capable McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk, which she flew for a year.
Pilots make two flights a day during training, which can be grueling, she said.
"You're learning a lot and there's so much knowledge required," Stark said. "I can only compare it to becoming a medical doctor. You're flying every day and getting evaluated and really intensely scrutinized."
The F-35C will be "completely different" from flying the T-6 and T-45 training jets, which don't require pilots to learn about weapons systems, radars or military flying tactics, Stark said.
"Looking back, something I thought would be so hard is almost a joke now compared to the new challenge," she said.
Stark will be deployed after about a year of training.
"The most enjoyable thing is it's such an amazing challenge," she said. "It's mental. You have to know your stuff. It's intellectual. You have to apply your brain to this job, but it's also so physical because we're strapped in this tiny jet and you're undergoing G's and it's smoking hot in Texas. It wipes you out physically. It's spiritual, too, in the sense that you have to have a bit of feistiness and not give up."
Catherine Stark is the fourth of eight children in her family and among three in the military. Her brother, Lt. Joseph Stark, is a Naval Supply Systems Command logistics director for Seal Team 4, and Zofia Stark, who, like her sister, completed the U.S. Naval Academy in 2016, is a 1st lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Mercyhurst Prep celebrated Stark's achievement Tuesday by posting video of her taking off from an aircraft carrier.
"She's quite an accomplished young lady," said Marcia Gensheimer, director of alumni and public relations for the school.
Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ETNrink.
©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
President Donald Trump, speaking during a closed-door speech to Republican Party of Florida donors at the state party's annual Statesman's Dinner, was in "rare form" Saturday night.
The dinner, which raised $3.5 million for the state party, was met with unusual secrecy. The 1,000 attendees were required to check their cell phones into individual locked cases before they entered the unmarked ballroom at the south end of the resort. Reporters were not allowed to attend.
But the secrecy was key to Trump's performance, which attendees called "hilarious."
Riding the high of the successful event turnout — and without the pressure of press or cell phones — Trump transformed into a "total comedian," according to six people who attended the event and spoke afterward to the Miami Herald.
He also pulled an unusual move, bringing on stage Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who Trump pardoned last month for cases involving war crimes. Lorance was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers shoot at unarmed men in Afghanistan, and Golsteyn was to stand trial for the 2010 extrajudicial killing of a suspected bomb maker.
Retired Col. Charles McGee stepped out of the small commercial jet and flashed a smile.
Then a thumbs-up.
McGee had returned on a round-trip flight Friday morning from Dover Air Force Base, where he served as co-pilot on one of two flights done especially for his birthday.
By the way he disembarked from the plane, it was hard to tell that McGee, a Tuskegee Airman, was turning 100.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act would allow service members to seek compensation when military doctors make mistakes that harm them, but they would still be unable to file medical malpractice lawsuits against the federal government.
On Monday night, Congress announced that it had finalized the NDAA, which must be passed by the House and Senate before going to President Donald Trump. If the president signs the NDAA into law, it would mark the first time in nearly seven decades that U.S. military personnel have had legal recourse to seek payment from the military in cases of medical malpractice.
A major serving at U.S. Army Cyber Command has been charged with distributing child pornography, according to the Justice Department.
Maj. Jason Michael Musgrove, who is based at Fort Gordon, Georgia, has been remanded to the U.S. Marshals service, a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia says.