Story by MC2 Wyatt Anthony, Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Det. Northwest
CENTRALIA, Wash. – Lewis County, Washington state, and the city of Centralia, honored one of their own during a bridge renaming ceremony held at Schaeffer Park, Sept. 14.
The State Route 507 Skookumchuck River bridge was renamed the Petty Officer 1st Class Regina R. Clark Memorial Bridge, in honor of Navy Culinary Specialist 1st Class (CS1) Regina “Regi” Clark, who was killed by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) in Fallujah, Iraq, June 23, 2005.
“While travelling around I started seeing a lot of signs along highways [honoring fallen military members], and I just said to myself, ‘this is what we need to do for Regina,’”, said Joe Amell, whose wife and himself were friends with Clark and spearheaded the process of having the bridge renamed in her honor.
Unbeknownst to Amell, this process was a lot more time consuming and included a lot more effort than expected.
“It has been my endeavor over the past 16 months to recognize her, not only as a fallen warrior, but to honor her friendship and her immense contribution to our community and our nation,” said Amell. “It was a whole lot more work than I ever could have imagined, but it’s such a relief [to see this happening]. I’m proud to stand and honor Regina and all of our fallen heroes.”
Because of the work and diligence of Amell, a bill to rename the bridge in honor of Clark was introduced in the legislature by Rep. Ed Orcutt, Washington State House of Representatives, 20th District, and in July 2019, the Washington State Transportation Commission unanimously voted in favor of the bill.
“This wasn’t just about a bill, but this was about somebody so important as Regina Clark and the contribution that she’s made to her community and to her country,” said Orcutt. “Seeing everyone here and meeting some of the people that served with her speaks so loudly of what kind of person that she was and how much her community, and those who served with her, felt about her.”
The ceremony included Navy Sailors who served with Regina painting a colorful picture of the woman, mother, Sailor, leader, and warrior that she was.
“There are some people who make this world a better place to live in – Regina Clark was one of those people,” said Rear Adm. (Retired) Paula Brown, who served with Clark in the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, A-Team. “CS1 always excelled. She always went the extra mile, but she was best known for making some of our field exercises just a little more special by finding innovative ways to make cinnamon rolls and other delicious treats from the rations that we were provided.”
The words of the ones who knew and served with Clark spoke about her big heart, her fun spirit and her willingness to serve, go above and beyond, lead, and uplift others.
“She made you feel like you mattered no matter who you were,” said Brown. “She gave me perspective. She was so positive, so enthusiastic, and so willing. [She] radiated service to others, she sparkled energy and charisma, she helped to build camaraderie, support, and confidence in other Sailors.”
Clark was serving with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in a forward operating base (FOB) outside of Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar Province, which, at the time, was considered the most dangerous province in Iraq where her responsibilities included running the hotel services, ensuring that everyone was properly fed and berthed.
“[Regina] was a great friend of mine,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman Kristen Thorstenson (Retired). As a single parent, she amazed me. She never gave up, never said, ‘poor me,’ she just worked hard. She was a great friend. I love her dearly and I think of her often.”
When cultural differences in the Middle East prohibited male military members from touching or searching local women during operations, the Lioness Teams, officially known as female engagement teams, were formed to search local women, distribute information to local women and families, and gather intelligence.
“[Regina] was an awesome, unbelievable person,” said Builder 1st Class (Retired) Shane Alvarez. “[Seeing the sign being unveiled] was very moving for me and hit me harder than I thought it would. I really loved serving with her.”
One word that was used multiple times to describe Clark was “warrior.” As a warrior, Clark was adamant about becoming a member of a Lioness Team.
“The Lioness’ were constantly in harm’s way,” said Capt. Mike Blount (Retired), commodore of the regiment Clark was attached to in Iraq. “Petty Officer Clark recognized the need, and the demand, and she went beyond the call of duty and became a Lioness.”
Clark failed to become a Lioness on her first attempt because of the role she played within the FOB and how greatly the Sailors and Marines there relied on her. However, after a Marine Corps general announced the importance and the need for more Lionesses, she was approved to join their ranks.
“She was so proud to be a part of such an elite unit and got great fulfillment from serving a much-needed mission for the U.S. Marines and the people of Fallujah,” said Blount.
On June 23, 2005, while returning from a mission, a planned attack from an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber attacked her convoy killing Petty Officer Clark, two U.S. Marine Lionesses, a male Marine, and wounded 11 others. It was one of the deadliest attacks against the Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’m very grateful to be here to be able to remember and honor CS1 Regina Clark, a Seabee warrior, and an American hero,” said Blount. “She was brave. She was courageous. She stepped up when our nation needed her the most. She was a hero.”
Culinary Specialist 1st Class Regina Clark was a veteran of Desert Storm and was serving in the Navy reserves before being called back to active duty a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She left behind a son, but she will be remembered forever.
Today, when driving over the Skookumchuck River, on Washington State Route 507, her name is now displayed to commemorate her bravery and her sacrifice.