USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN — Four Ashland natives will spend the holidays deployed in the Middle East this year aboard the Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
Capt. Kevin Meenaghan, Lt. Cmdr. Brett Stevenson, Lt. Dan Metz and Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Amorelli, all Ashland High School graduates, are stationed together aboard Lincoln, currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, which covers the entire Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Horn of Africa.
Meenaghan, a Navy captain and 1982 AHS graduate, is the chief of staff for the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group. A 25-year Navy veteran, Meenaghan is responsible for all aspects of planning and operations for the strike group's eight ships, as well as leading the admiral's staff of 100 Navy personnel.
"Although it is difficult to be deployed over the holiday, it's a sacrifice that we're willing to make for the freedoms we enjoy," said Meenaghan in a release from the Navy.
Meenaghan, who is on his ninth deployment, is quick to credit his upbringing for his and the strike group's success.
"I credit my own success to the uniqueness of the Ashland community and the outstanding school system and teachers I had growing up," said Meenaghan. "It is incredible the amount of responsibility we give our young sailors. We have 18- and 19-year-olds working on the flight deck launching aircraft and working in the nuclear power plant."
Meenaghan is an EA-6B pilot and spent most of his career in the Pacific Northwest, primarily at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
Also deployed with Lincoln during the holidays is Lt. Cmdr. Brett Stevenson, a 1989 AHS graduate and son of Southern Oregon University professors Linda and Roger Stevenson.
Stevenson enlisted in the Navy in 1990, serving in the air crew and aviation ordnance fields. He was commissioned through Officer Candidate School in 1998 and was designated a naval flight officer in 2000. Stevenson flies the EA-6B Prowler based at NAS Whidbey Island, where he has resided since 2000. Brett is on his ninth overseas deployment, including four in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"My fondest memories of Ashland have always been the way the community comes together during the holidays," Stevenson said in the release. "Whether it was Christmas, Independence Day or Halloween, Ashland has always had a unique way of celebrating and that has been very special to me."
Ashland native Lt. Dan Metz didn't join the Navy immediately after his 1991 AHS graduation. After graduating from Willamette University, he worked in the Mail Tribune advertising department for two years and then in the advertising and public relations field in Portland until 2001.
As an aviation supply officer, Metz supports the nine aircraft squadrons embarked on Lincoln with the repair parts, supplies and logistics they need to maintain mission-capable aircraft in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.
Metz plans to attend graduate school to earn a master's in business administration when the Lincoln returns from deployment.
Rounding out Ashland's quartet of deployed Abraham Lincoln sailors is Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Amorelli, an aviation search and rescue swimmer with one of Lincoln's helicopter squadrons.
Both Metz and Amorelli attended Willamette University; Metz graduated in 1995 with a degree in English and political science and Amorelli in 2000 with an art degree, and both were in the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
Amorelli resides in San Diego with his wife, Jill. Before the Navy, Amorelli taught pre-school and kindergarten in Taiwan and then spent several years employed by Advanced Photo and Imaging in Ashland. He was head coach of Superior Stingray Swim Club and enlisted in the Navy in May 2008.
Like the others, Amorelli says the hardest part of the deployment is being away from family.
"I've been away from home for Christmas before and didn't have too difficult of a time. But this is the first Christmas that I'll be away from my wife, Jill, and that makes this the hardest time away I've had," said Amorelli.
Stevenson concluded by saying, "It makes me extremely proud that our community is so well represented. It brings a sense of togetherness to us during the holidays. The people of Southern Oregon have been so kind and supportive to our deployed men and women over the years and we're certainly grateful for that."
The Lincoln is currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts to establish conditions for regional stability.
Based in Everett, Wash., the USS Abraham Lincoln and its embarked air wing comprise nearly 5,000 men and women and provide one-third of the fixed-wing close-air support for ground forces in Afghanistan through Operation Enduring Freedom.