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St. Croix Native Serves on a ‘City at Sea’ Aboard Navy’s USS Makin Island

Clarence Matthews (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Heidi Cheek)

Clarence Matthews learned a lot of important lessons while growing up on St. Croix, lessons that have taken him far in his military career, both literally and figuratively.

Matthews, who graduated from high school in Florida in 2010, is now in the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Clarence Matthews is a hospital corpsman aboard the amphibious assault ship, which operates out of San Diego. A hospital corpsman is responsible for taking care of all sick patients for medical care.

Matthews credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in St. Croix.

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“My dad taught me to take advantage of everything the military had to offer,” Matthews said. “There is a lot of opportunity in the Navy and I have used it to get my associate’s degree and I am working on my bachelor’s now.”

“My dad was in the Navy,” said Matthews. “He influenced me to join because I grew up as a Navy kid and it’s all I knew. I always felt like being a part of the Navy was something that I wanted to do. My ultimate goal is to be an officer.”

Makin Island, one of the Navy’s most advanced and largest amphibious ships, is designed to deliver Marines and their equipment where they are needed to support a variety of missions ranging from amphibious assaults to humanitarian relief efforts.

The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island conducts flight operations off the coast of Southern California. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Lill)

The ship, which resembles a small aircraft carrier, is longer than two football fields at 847 feet, is 106 feet wide and weighs more than 41,000 tons fully loaded. It has gas turbine engines and two variable speed electric motors that can push the ship through the water in excess of 20 knots. It can carry more than 12 helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft.

Makin Island carries a crew of more than 1,000 men and women, making it a small town at sea. The crew keeps all parts of the ship running smoothly, from handling weaponry to maintaining the engines. An additional 1,700 Marines can be embarked. The ship is capable of transporting Marines and landing them where they are needed via helicopters, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and landing craft.

“Makin Island is one of the most advanced warships on the waterfront, but she’s nothing without her crew,” said Capt. David Oden, commanding officer of Makin Island. “They’ve proved themselves time and time again, and their level of professionalism and dedication is second to none.”

Makin Island is named for a small island in the Pacific, which was the scene of a Marine raid in August 1942, one of the first offensive operations by the U.S. in World War II.

These amphibious assault ships project power from the sea serving as the cornerstone of the amphibious ready group. Makin Island was delivered to the Navy in April 2009 and is the first U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship to be equipped with both gas turbines and auxiliary propulsion system instead of steam boilers.

Because of their inherent capabilities, these ships have been and will continue to be called upon to support humanitarian and other contingency missions on short notice. USS Wasp, another amphibious assault ship, was a key player in the relief effort in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the weeks immediately after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.