NASELLE — Oddly enough, Samantha Barbeau was in Naselle visiting family last September when she got the call from a friend that her grandmother’s Medford home, where she had lived for several years and her grandmother had lived for decades, had burned down.

The house was one of many casualties of Oregon’s devastating 2020 wildfire season and, ultimately, led Barbeau to Naselle High School for her senior year. Later this year, she’ll head off to Navy boot camp.

But change isn’t new to the soon-to-be graduate. Barbeau, her mother and her younger siblings lived with her grandmother for several years, but moved back to her home state of North Carolina from the Medford area when she was 17. Barbeau moved back to southern Oregon to live with her grandmother when she turned 18, and then moved to Naselle after the fire to live with family and complete her senior year.

While Barbeau lost all of her possessions in the fire, she said it’s nothing compared to what her grandmother lost.

“It kind of has felt like a lie to tell people that it’s been my traumatic event, because it was my grandmother’s traumatic event. She built her whole life around that house and lost everything,” Barbeau said. “My loss compared to her loss is nothing. I’m just starting my life, most of my stuff is replaceable … For my grandma, I’m sure it felt like losing a person, because there was so much in there and her dad had just died and her husband had died in that house.”

Family comes through

In Naselle, she and her grandma lived with her aunt — whom she hadn’t met until last year — until Barbeau later moved into her own place. She credited her family in Naselle, along with the community in southern Oregon, for helping her and her grandma recover.

“My family here in Naselle definitely pulled through and they helped out a lot. I don’t think my grandma and I could have gotten back up on our feet as fast as we had if it wasn’t for the family here that helped us,” Barbeau said.

Moving to a new school in the midst of a school year following such a traumatic experience is difficult under normal circumstances, let alone in the middle of a pandemic that restricted schools in Pacific County to remote learning for several months of the 2020-21 school year. Barbeau initially planned to just finish her senior year online, but she ultimately decided to attend NHS because she said she does better in an actual school environment and didn’t want to miss out on quintessential senior-year experiences.

She credits Naselle principal Justin Laine and counselor Kellyn Hazen for helping her stay on track while also working full-time as a waitress at the Shelburne Hotel & Restaurant in Seaview, a job she’ll keep throughout the summer before joining the Navy.

Laine said Barbeau is one of the most self-directed, resilient and resourceful students he’s ever worked with in his 21 years in education. Even after experiencing so much adversity, “she has never complained and just quietly perseveres … [she] has kept a positive outlook on life and chosen to meet her challenges head-on. She is truly an inspiration to staff and students alike.”

One of those classic senior-year experiences Barbeau was able to participate in was the NHS softball team’s league championship-winning season this spring. She was selected as an honorable mention to the 1B Coastal All-League team, one of seven Naselle players to earn league honors.

“Everybody on the team had grown up together, and at first I kind of felt out of place, but they were really nice and they definitely made it feel like a family. It was really fun, and it was a great way to end the season being league champs,” Barbeau said.

Barbeau was accepted into Southern Oregon University, in Ashland, where she planned to study to become an elementary teacher, but said the financial aid she was offered “wasn’t nearly as much as I was hoping it would be,” particularly for someone with a financially unstable family background who is also now totally supporting herself.

Into the Navy

In the end, Barbeau declined the offer and instead decided to join the Navy, although she still plans to attend college and become a teacher once she finishes serving.

The military in general has always been an option for Barbeau, who’s had family members who have also served. In North Carolina she grew up near Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army military installation that is one of the world’s largest, housing more than 50,000 military personnel.

“The more I learn about the Navy, the more I’m glad that it ended up being the branch that I chose. It’s so different than the other branches in so many different ways,” Barbeau said. “I’m actually really excited [about joining]. I think things work out for a reason, so maybe me not being able to afford SOU was for the best, because it opened the door to a better and bigger opportunity.”

In May, Barbeau traveled to Portland to visit the city’s Military Entrance Processing Station — or MEPS. It was the last step to ensure that she and other enlisted applicants met all of the requirements, both physically and otherwise, before being sworn-in. She committed to serving eight years as a member of the Navy’s military police as a master-at-arms.

“It’ll pay for school, it’ll be a great experience, I’ll get to travel and of course the benefits won’t be terrible,” Barbeau said.

Next up for the Navy’s newest enlistee is boot camp, which lasts approximately two months. While military boot camp has its own mythos, Barbeau said she isn’t feeling too nervous for what’s to come.

“I don’t know why I’m not worried about it, but I can do well in a team and I can do well by myself. I think I’m more excited for it than I am worried about it, and all you can really do is learn from it,” Barbeau said. “I’m definitely going into it with an open mind.”

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