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Hastings native joins effort to celebrate women in the Navy

Hastings native Amy Leach, pictured at far right, has been in the U.S. Navy for 24 years. She worked her way up from a low-ranking radioman to Master Chief, and now manages about 300 people. U.S. Navy graphic by MC2 George Bell

Hastings native Amy (Perhai) Leach has seen significant changes in the U.S. Navy since she joined in 1989.

Back then, women weren’t allowed to serve on Navy aircraft carriers. Today, she’s Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman and oversees a department of about 300 aviation technicians and leaders aboard the USS Carl Vinson.

Leach grew up in Hastings. Her father was the high school biology teacher here, and the family lived here until 1987, when her parents retired and moved to Florida. Leach went to college for a couple years, she said, but when she realized her life wasn’t going the way it should, she decided to join the military.

In 1989, she joined the U.S. Navy in San Diego, Calif., as a radioman. She worked her way up, getting into structural mechanics. She changed aircraft tires, worked on aircraft hydraulic systems, did riveting and more. Now she’s upper level management.

During the month of March, which was Women’s History Month, the Carl Vinson media department decided to celebrate the women on board and the women in the Navy. Only 18 percent of the U.S. Navy are women, Leach said. At her grade, only 1 percent are women.

“Eighteen percent today speaks volumes to the diverse roles that have opened for us to serve in,” she said.

Women first served in the Navy in 1908, when Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps. At that time, nursing was the only option for women who wanted to join. But that’s all changed, with women working in all sorts of fields.

“Even in my 24 years I’ve seen huge advances for our young women in the Navy.”

Currently, the Navy is looking at allowing enlisted women to serve in submarines for the first time, “which is huge,” Leach said. “We never thought we would see that day.”

The media campaign sought to highlight that diversity and advancement by producing a series of photos and interviews with women in the navy. Leach, because of her high ranking position, was one of the women featured. She joined a handful of her crewmates representing the diverse position women now fill in the Navy. The women work in damage control, reactor department, intelligence, culinary and more. One of the officers was the ship’s judge. They posed for a photo on the flight deck of the Carl Vinson.

For Leach, women’s ability to advance has led to a memorable career.

“It’s just been an amazing opportunity to serve,” she said. “I have done so many things that I never thought I would or I could.”

She’s been stationed all over the country, from Maine to Florida, Hawaii, Washington state and San Diego, Calif., where she is currently stationed. She’s been on several deployments, most in the Middle East, in support of operations in the region.

She married another Navy member, Joshua Leach, and her oldest son, Joshua Owens, now also serves in the Navy. She also has a second son, Noah Leach.

One of her more memorable moments was being pinned Chief Petty Officer, she said, but “my most memorable moments were surpassing goals that people told me that I couldn’t.”