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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.
Once again, the United States and the Taliban are apparently close to striking a peace deal. Such a peace agreement has been rumored to be in the works longer than the latest "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" sequel. (The difference is Keanu Reeves has fewer f**ks to give than U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.)
Both sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement in September until the Taliban took credit for an attack that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. That prompted President Donald Trump to angrily cancel a planned summit with the Taliban that had been scheduled to take place at Camp David, Maryland, on Sept. 8.
Now Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told a Pakistani newspaper that he is "optimistic" that the Taliban could reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators by the end of January.
75 years ago, Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor with nothing but a burning tank destroyer's .50 cal and insane bravery
Editor's note: a version of this post first appeared in 2018
On January 26, 1945, the most decorated U.S. service member of World War II earned his legacy in a fiery fashion.
Florida senators are pushing for Purple Hearts for service members wounded in the NAS Pensacola shooting
Florida's two senators are pushing the Defense Department to award Purple Hearts to the U.S. service members wounded in the December shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Navy Department is in the middle of a new force-structure review, which could change the number and types of ships the sea services say they'll need to fight future conflicts. But instead of trying to project what they will need three decades out, which has been the case in past assessments, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the services will take a shorter view.
"I don't know what the threat's going to be 30 years from now, but if we're building a force structure for 30 years from now, I would suggest we're probably not building the right one," he said Friday at a National Defense Industrial Association event.
The Navy completed its last force-structure assessment in 2016. That 30-year plan called for a 355-ship fleet.
When Oscar Jesus Temores showed up to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story each day, his colleagues in base security knew they were in for a treat.
Temores was a master-at-arms who loved his job and cracking corny jokes.
"He just he just had that personality that you can go up to him and talk to him about anything. It was goofy and weird, and he always had jokes," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Lopez, a fellow base patrolman. "Sometimes he'd make you cry from laughter and other times you'd just want to cringe because of how dumb his joke was. But that's what made him more approachable and easy to be around."
That ability to make others laugh and put people at ease is just one of the ways Temores is remembered by his colleagues. It has been seven weeks since the 23-year-old married father of one was killed when a civilian intruder crashed his pickup truck into Temores' vehicle at Fort Story.