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LEC graduate serves aboard Navy's newest amphibious - assault ship

LEC graduate serves aboard Navy's newest amphibious - assault ship

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U.S. Navy Damage Controlman Fireman Thomas Harrison, of Sanford, a 2012 graduate of Lee Early Coll ... (more)

06.26.2014Admin, Faculty & StaffCollege & CommunityCollege GeneralStudents/Graduates

PASCAGOULA, MISS. - Thomas Harrison, a 2012 graduate of Lee Early College, is serving as part of a U.S. Navy hand-selected crew charged with bringing the Navy's newest and most advanced amphibious assault ship into service.

Lee Early College is an academically advanced, non-traditional high school operated by Lee County Schools and Central Carolina Community College at the college's Lee County Campus, in Sanford.

Damage Controlman Fireman Harrison, of Sanford, is serving aboard the amphibious assault ship America in Pascagoula, Miss. America, the first ship of its class, recently completed construction and was turned over to the Navy and her crew April 10 at the Huntington-Ingalls shipyard. After the ship is certified and sea trials are completed, it will be placed into commission as the USS America and will be homeported in San Diego.

Harrison and the rest of the 900-person crew are bringing the ship to life, overseeing construction, testing new equipment, training on new systems and testing the ship at sea. Harrison said it is an exciting time to be in the Navy. Helping to build a crew and a ship from scratch is something he never expected to be doing just a couple years ago.

"Being assigned to a ship named after our country is an honor," the 21-year-old sailor said. "And to be a plankowner, one of the original crewmembers, is something that no one can ever take from you. It's a special privilege that few have the honor of holding."

Harrison is not only honored to be a part of the America commissioning crew but thankful for the chance to do something he loves.

"Being a damage controlman is a fun job," he said. "I like getting dirty and working hard. Right now we are working sunup to sundown almost every day, but when you enjoy the work you are doing it's not really that big of a burden. The one thing that I love most about my job is when the bells go off. Running drills and responding to casualties gets everyone's heart pumping. You might be going about your normal day-to-day tasks, and the next thing you know, you will have to drop what you're doing and be prepared to respond to whatever emergency is happening. It's exciting and feels good to know that people are counting on you all over the ship."

Harrison plans to make the Navy a career.

"I enjoy what I do now, but ultimately, my goal is to become a medical officer," he said. "Helping people is really my passion. Although I'm not working in the field now, last February I became a certified nursing aide."

Harrison' supervisor believes that he is an outstanding sailor and will do many great things going forward.

"Fireman Harrison is the type of sailor that you want to have come work for you," said Damage Controlman 1st Class (SW) Wayne Jones, damage control division's leading petty officer. "He's a hard-working guy with a great attitude. If you ask him to take care of something you can count on it getting done and getting done right."

The America class of amphibious assault ships replaces the aging Tarawa class. The crew will eventually grow to more than 1,100 Sailors and nearly 1,900 embarked Marines when the ship is at sea. America is 844 feet long, 106 feet wide and weighs nearly 45,000 tons. The ship has twin gas-turbine engines that push it through the water at more than 22 knots.

America's design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft. It will be able to support a wide spectrum of military operations and missions, including putting Marines ashore for combat operations, launching air strikes, keeping sea lanes free and open for the movement of global commerce, and delivering humanitarian aid following a disaster.

Katherine E. McDonald, Central Carolina Community College Marketing and Media writer, contributed to this story.