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Glacier High grad expands horizons with Navy career

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | October 10, 2022 12:00 AM

Turning 18 and bopping around the Flathead Valley, Glacier High School graduate Melanie Noble, at that point ruling out the college experience, looked at life at sea instead.

“The advertising behind the Navy, it really spoke to me,” she said via phone from San Diego last month, a petty officer first class aboard the USS Cowpens and 11 years into her Navy career. “I liked the idea of it. Back in the day, [the slogan] was ‘A global force for good.’”

Her father, Roger, was — and is — proud of her, Noble recalled. Shawna, her mother, took a little convincing, though.

“I think it was a lack of understanding. She didn’t know what I was getting myself into and, frankly, neither did I,” Noble said, noting that her mother has since come around and wears the “Navy Mom” T-shirts that Noble slips into her closet on trips home. “I was stubborn and bullheaded and said this was what I was going to do.”

Heading to boot camp, or recruit training, at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, Noble found herself in what she described as a “high stakes” summer camp. She grew up very quickly.

“For me, it was a difficult experience because of how young I was,” Noble recalled. “I didn’t understand that a lot of what was happening was them trying to mold me into what they wanted me to be, which is a sailor.”

In the Navy, recruits have an idea of their future profession in the branch heading into boot camp. Noble knew she was headed into the advanced electronics computer field. That meant either becoming a fire controlman or electronics technician. These days, she’s running large weapons systems aboard Navy ships.

“I always knew that I liked computers and I liked the idea behind electronics, I just never really dug into it as a teen,” she said. “Now that I’ve gone through it all, I love my job.”

Her first ship was the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the time in Norfolk, Virginia, and she stayed busy helping prepare the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier for deployment. The crew spent roughly 20 days ashore before heading out to sea for a month at a time.

“Being on an aircraft carrier, it really is a moving city,” she recalled. “It’s 5,500 people when we’re fully stocked — almost bigger than the cities around Kalispell.”

Noble spent two years aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, working largely with the Rolling Airframe Missile system. It also included a historic around the world tour, noteworthy because it involved a home-port shift for the massive vessel as part of a carrier realignment effort. While the Theodore Roosevelt was bound eventually for San Diego, its counterpart there — the USS Ronald Reagan — was slated for Japan to relieve the USS George Washington, which in turn steamed toward Norfolk for an overhaul.

That deployment included launching air strikes on the Islamic State and confrontations with Iranian ships, according to a Navy Times summary of the carrier’s journey. The nine month trip — the bulk of it spent operating in the Persian Gulf — gave Noble plenty of time to work on professional development. She also took advantage of the opportunity to see the world, making trips off the ship to see England, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai.

After leaving the Persian Gulf, the Theodore Roosevelt engaged in war games with India. But what stood out in Noble’s memory was the experience of crossing the equator, which involves time-honored Crossing the Line ceremonies.

“When you cross the equator for the first time you go from being a pollywog to a shellback and you go through a day of games and trials — and by trials, it’s silly things like they spray you with water and have you crawl under some netting,” Noble recalled. “Then you eventually get accepted by King Neptune and his royal court and you become a shellback.”

Noble wryly noted that she remains unsure of how, biologically-speaking, a pollywog develops a shell, but traced the tradition back to the British Navy.

After completing the deployment, Noble headed east from California, returning to Norfolk where she began working on the recently arrived George Washington. Following that, she spent several years as a recruiter in Utah.

These days the petty officer first class is back in San Diego, working aboard a guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens. She’s got sailors reporting to her now — a petty officer is a noncomissioned officer — and the administrative work has overtaken the hands-on jobs she performed earlier in her career.

She’s also finishing up her bachelor’s degree in IT and cybersecurity with plans to get a second degree in environmental sciences. That leaves her with the option of becoming a mustang — jumping to a commissioned officer from the enlisted ranks — or getting elevated to chief petty officer.

It’s not lost on her that she went from thinking college wasn’t for her to seeking multiple post-secondary degrees.

“It took a lot of maturing,” she said, an area where the Navy helped out quite a bit.

Approaching 30, she’s less than a decade away from retirement from the military. In the years since leaving the valley, Noble has lived in four states, crisscrossed the country and traveled the globe.

“I don’t know what my life would look like if I stayed home. I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am now,” Noble said. “I would have never done the things I have been able to do with the Navy. It used to dawn on me a lot when I was living in Utah: I never thought I would be living in Utah and being paid every single day to do a job that I love.”

Reflecting on the experience, Noble said she would encourage any teenager to consider all their options, including college, trade schools and military service, when thinking about life after high school. Bumping into sailors in San Diego she helped recruit in Utah represents an unexpected perk of the career.

“They’re happy and successful — it just brings me so much joy,” she said.

Noble expects to wrap up her time as a sailor in her late 30s. If that seems early to retire, Noble agrees. She plans to return to Montana and become a forest ranger.

“I miss the mountains every day,” she said.

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.

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