Monica Hurley never thought the Navy was in her future.
A summer seminar at the U.S. Naval Academy before her senior year in high school, however, persuaded the 1998 Lakeside High School graduate to ship off to Annapolis, Md., the home of the Naval Academy, instead of the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University or Bucknell University.
"I knew I could row at the academy and pop out with a guaranteed job," said Hurley, a 27-year-old Navy lieutenant. "It is definitely something you can be proud of."
Hurley said the first year at the academy was tough as she balanced seven classes, varsity rowing and additional duties required of freshmen, including attending lectures.
"I missed that. I didn't see that toughness in her," Matt Hurley said of his daughter, who was a former Miss Lakeside contestant, spent 10 years in dance and is the middle child between two boys.
Hurley left the academy with a degree in mechanical engineering and was assigned to the USS Hue City, a cruiser, where she served as a gunnery officer. After 1 1/2 years on the Hue City, Hurley moved on to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C.
"All six months, it was literally crammed; a crash course in nuclear power," she said of the time she spent training on an active reactor in a training submarine.
Hurley said she chose nuclear science because she knew she didn't want to fly or be a Marine, and she wanted something more challenging than surface warfare.
Hurley's next assignment was on the USS Eisenhower, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, where she spent nearly two years working in the reactor department.
"It is exciting," Hurley said. "Tension is very high. We are the ones that are keeping the ship going. Yeah, all the pilots and the topsiders get all the glory, but if the reactor department is not working, they are not going to get to do anything they need to do.
"If you have no power, you can't go anywhere. There's no steam. So you need the reactor department. We do all the work with none of the glory."
At least, she has seen much of the world.
Hurley was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea from October 2006 until May. The carrier made stops in Naples, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; and the island of Cyprus.
While on the Eisenhower, Hurley said, she served as a reactor laboratory division officer and oversaw the chemical testing of the reactor water and the carrier's diesel generators.
"A carrier's mission is to get the planes off the deck," Hurley said. "So that's what we did. We always had power to get the planes off the deck. That's the most important thing -- get those planes off."
Hurley recently began her shore rotation and is working near Memphis, Tenn., recruiting college students into the nuclear program.
Hurley's father said her career path is an example of a road less traveled for young women, but one that is different and exciting.
Now Hurley has more career decisions as her required five years of service come to a close.
"I'm on shore for two years and that's the decision point," the lieutenant said. "I can either go ahead and stay in the Navy and go to department head school, or I can get out and do a regular civilian job. Right now, I'm undecided on what I want to do."
Her civilian options range from working on private nuclear reactors or a career in engineering.
Though he was shocked with her decision to attend the academy, Hurley's father said the Navy has been worthwhile and he's proud of all she has accomplished.
"I think it has (been good for her) as far as the experience she's had worldwide and the training," he said. "She seems to like it. She does well at it."
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