Megan Varney’s food service job at the Sterling Pointe assisted-living apartments in Princeton is in great contrast to the occupation she once had moving heavy anchor rope and strapping down aircraft aboard an aircraft carrier.
Those were “huge ropes, about 6 inches across,” said Varney, 27, as she sat at Sterling Pointe recounting her four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy that began in 2008.
Varney was Megan Buell when she enlisted; she had graduated from Princeton High School in 2005. She decided to join Navy to follow a family tradition in which her two grandfathers had been in the Naval branch of the Armed Services. She remembers hearing stories from her grandfather William Hamler about his time aboard a Navy frigate and a Navy destroyer.
“And I’m the oldest grandchild,” she added. “I’m hoping my experience and stories will make another one join.”
Varney went through Navy boot camp at the Great Lakes, Ill., facility starting in September 2008.
“It was easier than I thought,” she said.
She remembers one time in boot camp laughing when she heard others in her group getting yelled at by a superior, and because of that the superior yelled at her and made her do sit-ups and push-ups.
Then she spent eight weeks at a Navy school training to be an aviation boatswain’s mate. The duties in that Navy rating include putting out aircraft fires and strapping down aircraft aboard aircraft carriers.
“I wanted to do firefighting and be right in there with the pilots.”
After her schooling she was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, with the home port at San Diego. She found the Nimitz “eye opening.”
“It was huge. It was like a floating hotel and able to hold 8,000 people,” she said.
It has a barber shop, ship’s store, five galleys (for eating), and that her sleeping area was designed for 50 women. The sleeping setup had bunks stacked three high.
What surprised her the most about being aboard the Nimitz was how it could be out to sea for 45 days without having to get resupplied with food during that time.
Her first deployment was to the Japanese seaport of Yokosuka, which the U.S. Navy has used since the end of World War II. Yokosuka also happened to be the first foreign port that her grandfather William visited when he was in the Navy.
Other ports that the Nimitz docked at when Varney was aboard were in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Bahrain, Dubai and Hong Kong. Varney discovered a bubble tea in Yokosuka that she says became her favorite tea.
Varney pointed out that Dubai has the world’s tallest building and that it was in an action scene in one of the “Mission Impossible” movies starring Tom Cruise.
Her favorite country to visit in the Navy was Thailand.
“It was so pretty,” she said.
She said she wouldn’t want to live in Singapore because she feels it has too many laws.
She took the Varney name when she married Dustin Varney on April 16, 2010. She met Varney, who is from Kalamazoo, Mich., when the two were aboard ship. He was in the same boatswain’s division. The couple now have two children Braydyn, 2, and Sophia, a little more than 5 months old.
Dustin Varney attended an art institute in San Diego, studying computer animation and gaming and will receive a degree in computer drafting next spring from Anoka Tech, Megan Varney said.
In August, she began studies at Anoka Technical College to become a medical assistant.
Looking back on her active duty time in the Navy, which ended in September 2012, Varney said the aviation boatswain work was hard at times, such as when the boatswains had to move heavy ropes to release the anchor. She said she gained more muscle in the job.
But Varney also talked about enjoying the travel opportunities and looking out onto the ocean and sometimes seeing dolphins and whales.
She is obligated to stay in the Navy Reserve until May 2016, meaning she could be called into active duty between now and then. She said she is “totally fine” with the chance that she could be called up to active duty.
She said she hopes that some women reading about her experience in the Navy may be inspired to join the military.