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Tracy Frank, Published March 29 2014

Her Voice: From North High to the Navy

FARGO –Elizabeth Karlins went straight from dorms, studying and finals to learning how to drive a war ship.

The 26-year-old Fargo North graduate is a Navy lieutenant junior grade serving in the U.S. Navy as part of a crew working aboard one of the country’s multi-mission combat ships, the San Diego-based guided missile destroyer USS Higgins.

She has been active duty for four years, since graduating from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where Karlins participated in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).

Her grandfather was in the Navy, and her uncles and cousins serve in the military, but Karlins says she hadn’t considered pursuing a military career until she got to college.

“I knew I wanted to do something that was going to be an adventure and something different from what people usually do,” she said. “I always had that strong sense of service from my grandpa serving and all of my family members serving, so I decided that the Navy was going to be it.”

As a surface warfare officer, Karlins says she started leading sailors right out of college. She works as a damage-control assistant, so she focuses on repair and firefighting systems on the ship. Her duties include directing fire confinement, flooding and rapid repairs. She evaluates potential hazards, establishes escape systems and directs personnel rescue procedures in an emergency.

Karlins went through a two-month process to become a damage-control assistant, she said.

“Every day is a new challenge,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen when you show up at work in the morning.”

And she says she has definitely gotten the adventure for which she was looking. Karlins was sent on her first deployment three weeks out of college. She’s been on three deployments in the past four years and has traveled to 11 countries.

During her deployments, she says she also gets some time to sightsee.

“A lot of people join the Navy to see the world,” she said.

Karlins returned to San Diego in October after nine months on her most recent deployment, which was to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

As a female Naval officer, Karlins says she’s in the minority, but she’s never experienced any problems because she’s a woman. Karlins says it’s something more women should consider.

“There hasn’t been one day so far in the Navy where I have had an opportunity closed off to me or someone treated me differently because I’m a woman,” she said. “My sailors don’t see me differently because I’m a woman. I haven’t proceeded in my qualifications any differently because I’m a woman.”

Karlins says her 9-year-old sister now wants to join the Navy, too.

“I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for any woman out there,” Karlins said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526