uring the early morning hours of October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew slashed across Haiti. One hundred fifty mph Category 4 winds snapped buildings like twigs, hurling wreckage at will, flooding coastal areas, and leaving behind utter desolation.

And her laser vision correction

uring the early morning hours of October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew slashed across Haiti. One hundred fifty mph Category 4 winds snapped buildings like twigs, hurling wreckage at will, flooding coastal areas, and leaving behind utter desolation.

Aid workers soon reported that parts of Haiti, located southeast of Cuba, faced complete destruction. The hurricane claimed 546 lives and left 1.4 million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance—help that soon would be on its way.

At Naval Station Mayport, 900 miles north in Jacksonville, Florida, Navy Lieutenant Amanda Nicole Suter received orders. The 26-year-old farm girl from Washington State would be aboard the USS Iwo Jima, which was scheduled for an October 8 departure to Haiti. The mission: to deliver manpower assistance in the form of 500 Marines along with hundreds of pallets of supplies—including beans, rice, and bottled water.

“My job was to drive the ship,” Amanda says. “Although my duties kept me on the vessel for the three weeks we were in Haiti, it was still very rewarding. I like helping people, and this was a great opportunity to lend a hand!”

DAREDEVIL IN THE MAKING

It takes a generous dollop of daredevil to chart a course from driving farm tractors to taking the helm of a 41,000-ton ship. “That’s Amanda,” her mother says. “She’s determined, strong-willed, and has never backed down from a challenge. She loves fast motorcycles, daredevil sports, and has traveled the world making friends wherever she goes.”

Amanda grew up in a century-old house on a farm outside of Winlock, Washington. Located 60 miles southwest of Mt. Rainier, the town is home to 1,400 people. Her parents, George and Raylene Suter, raised rabbits, sheep, pigs and cows in addition to other jobs. Between caring for animals, maintaining an old house, repairing equipment, cooking, and cutting firewood for winter heating, life on the Suter homestead provided little opportunity for boredom.

“Dad taught me how to use a chainsaw, pull down trees, chop wood, stack it, and all that fun stuff,” Amanda recalls. “I don’t remember a time when we weren’t busy. Dad told my sister and me, ‘Earn your keep.’ So, we worked!”

But Amanda inherited her adventurous spirit from her mother. Raylene says doing high-adrenaline sports herself when she was younger was entirely different than being a mother and watching a daughter take similar risks. “Amanda got banged up once in a while,” Raylene recalls. “But our job as parents was to nurse her back to health.” One such incident occurred when Amanda was 13. It would later haunt her dream to fly.

“I was riding bareback on a quarter horse. My friend stepped on a rake, and it hit the horse,” Amanda says. The horse bolted. Bucking and rearing, it tossed Amanda. She fell with a sickening thud. “My head hit a boulder, and I remember lying there hearing people screaming. I couldn’t move. It felt like I had a sumo wrestler sitting on my head.”

Paramedics rushed Amanda to the hospital. It looked like surgery might be needed to relieve pressure on her brain caused by internal bleeding, but medication reduced the swelling. She recovered without needing an operation.

“Dad taught me how to use a chainsaw, pull down trees, chop wood, stack it, and all that fun stuff. I don’t remember a time when we weren’t busy.”

Amanda Niclole Suter (right) and sister, Courtney.

Skydiving with her sis.

Barak and Amanda in Germany.

SKYDIVING AND MOTORCYCLES

By her 16th birthday, Amanda was primed to leap out of an airplane, free falling before a parachute slowed her descent. After that first tandem jump, she was hooked! Since then, Amanda has completed more than 300 jumps—becoming a skydiving coach and jump pilot.

At 17, Amanda tested fate again with the purchase of her first motorcycle—a fast and powerful street bike. “My parents didn’t know I was getting it, and were they ever angry! They thought I’d go nuts

on the road. But I was actually pretty mellow,” she says.

In 2009, Amanda graduated from Winlock High School as valedictorian. Then she earned an Associates degree in automotive technology at Lower Columbia College. “My dirt bikes and quad were always breaking down. I’m like, how do I fix this? That’s what got me interested in auto mechanics.” This led to work at a local automotive shop. Before long, though, Amanda had enough of busted knuckles and greasy arms. It was time for the daredevil to move on.

She enrolled at Centralia College and studied engineering, but her big dream was flying. The obstacle? Finances.

PURSUING HER DREAM

Amanda had to find a way to pay for further education and flight training. She applied to the U.S. Naval Academy and was accepted in early 2010. “I was all pumped! The last thing was a medical evaluation.” Then Amanda received a call saying she couldn’t be admitted because of her traumatic brain injury.

The person on the phone suggested trying for a special waiver and applying for a scholarship through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Amanda received the waiver and scholarship, so at age 19 she headed to Jacksonville University in Florida. “They offer a good aviation program. I shipped my truck, got on an airplane, and moved 3,000 miles across the country.”

Amanda studied aviation management and flight operations. During college, she accumulated 270 hours of flight time and achieved her instrument rating and commercial pilot’s license.

She also continued skydiving. During the university homecoming game, she parachuted from 6,500 feet to land in step with the marching band on the football field! At halftime, Amanda was crowned “Miss Dolphina,” the homecoming queen.

However, even royalty has limits. Ordered to report for Navy flight training school, the homecoming queen awaited clearance. Again it was delayed because of the brain injury. Her special waiver let her into the Navy but didn’t guarantee she could fly as a pilot. “My world was crushed,” Amanda recalls. “I had two choices: pay back $200,000 for my education or become a Surface Warfare Officer, or SWO, and learn how to drive ships. I didn’t have 200 grand, so it was SWO for me.”

CHALLENGES AND FULFILLMENT

After two months of training in Virginia, Amanda deployed aboard the USS Iwo Jima. “I was in charge of up to 50 people as a brand-new officer. SWO gives you leadership practice!” During her training, Amanda earned her flight instructor rating on the side and taught others to fly at a local airport.

In 2017, near the end of her SWO training and after the memorable trip to Haiti, she married Barak, a maintenance mechanic. “We were friends for two or three years before he got up the nerve to ask me out,” Amanda laughs. After their wedding and honeymoon in Belize, Amanda and Barak moved to Germany.

In June, Amanda resigned from the Navy, moved back to Florida and joined the Air Force through a rare interservice transfer. After a review of her brain scan, she was granted a medical waiver that allows her to fly as an Air Force pilot.

Now it’s buckle-in time, and full-speed ahead toward her dream-come-true as Amanda attends Air Force flight school. “I’m really looking forward to flying military planes, including fighters,” she says. “They’re fun, fast and can do aerobatics. But I’ll be just as happy flying cargo or helos (helicopters). It’s the combination of flying, serving others, and the pride I feel being able to contribute for my country.”

 

Amanda (on right) and a flight-school friend in Florida.

 AMANDA’S

LASER VISION

CORRECTION

My vision was never terrible—20/60 in one eye and 20/40 in the other. Growing up, I wore glasses for reading but not when playing sports. When I applied to enter the Navy aviation program, I decided to have my vision surgically corrected. I scheduled the procedure with Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute (PCLI) for Christmas break during my senior year at Jacksonville University.

Dr. Marshall Ford did my surgery in the Bellevue office, near Seattle. He’d earned his private pilot’s license at age 16 and had flown a helicopter. I thought that was really cool. He talked me through the procedure, telling me what to expect. I was a bit nervous because if anything were to go wrong, I’d lose my ability to earn a living as a pilot. But the treatment went well. After my eyes were back to normal, I was amazed at how brilliant colors appeared. Water was bluer and grass much greener—everything was super bright.

watch A SHORT VIDEO on how treatment works. LASIK is a sophisticated microsurgical procedure, but it is relatively simple for those undergoing treatment. In just a few minutes, an advanced computer-guided laser evaporates a small amount of tissue to adjust the eye’s focusing power. This is usually less than the thickness of a human hair. Most people are able to drive and return to work the next day.

Our small team of surgeons has completed over 100,000 LASIK cases. Each year these highly experienced professionals also perform thousands of cataract surgeries and other microsurgical procedures.

World Class Care

We specialize in cataract surgery and LASIK laser vision correction. When you entrust us with the care of your vision, our team of experts concentrates their skills on giving you the best possible outcome. Having performed over 500,000 micro eye surgeries, we have earned a reputation for world class care.

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