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Island Marine Corps vet Sean Clark looking forward to Veterans Day

Shelter Island Police Officer Sean Clark, speaking on a Saturday morning before going on a 3-to-11 p.m. tour of duty, was asked how working different shifts affects him. “I always say it’s like feeling jet-lagged all of the time,” he said.

But disrupted sleeping and eating habits is really no burden, since becoming a police officer was one of the goals he set for himself growing up on Shelter Island. Other goals: Attending the United States Naval Academy; becoming a Marine officer; seeing the wider world; returning to Shelter Island to raise a family.

All boxes have been checked by the veteran.

Officer Clark’s best friend growing up was Joey Theinert, who was a few years older. Part of their friendship was based on a shared calling to military service. Joey was headed for the Army and Sean dreamed of serving in the Navy.

“He was a huge influence on me growing up,” Officer Clark said, especially about military service. They both played varsity basketball for Shelter Island High School and had a friendly rivalry about Army vs. Navy.

Army Lt. Joseph Theinert lost his life while leading his men of the 10th Mountain Division on a mission in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on June 5, 2010. He was 24, and the first Islander to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. Young Midshipman Sean Clark was entering his fourth year at Annapolis when the devastating news came.

Only the second Islander to graduate from the Naval Academy — the first was decorated Admiral Harold E. Shear — Officer Clark noted that graduates from the Academy had options: serve on ships, submarines, become a Navy aviator or join the Marine Corps as an infantry commander. Graduating in 2011, he chose the Corps. Commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, he served as far afield as mainland Japan.

He was a platoon commander, stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., responsible for 52 Marines and a fleet of vehicles. He ran the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, living in the jungle, directing operations with 22 helicopter landing zones in 17,500 acres of single and double canopy jungle.

“We didn’t get out of the jungle much,” Officer Clark said. “But we had strong relationships with the people there. They were kind and friendly people.”

Other assignments included duty as an amphibious vehicle officer, moving Marines off Navy ships to deploy on the ground. He has also served as a company executive officer, and was promoted to Marine Headquarters in Quantico, Va. where he became a top manager and training analyst, overseeing all Marine schools and training standards.

There’s another Marine in the family, his brother Mitchell. “Mitchell was selected to be promoted to sergeant while I was stationed at Marine Corps HQ in Quantico,” Officer Clark said. “I coordinated with his command so that I could travel to Camp Lejeune and be his promoting officer. On Nov. 1, 2016 I conducted a promotion ceremony at 2nd Tank Battalion and promoted him from corporal to sergeant. Earlier in his career, when I was a lieutenant I visited him during boot camp at Parris Island. To be able to promote him several years later was one of my proudest moments of service.”

Brothers in arms. Captain Sean Clark, left, with brother Mitchell, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., after Sean promoted him from corporal to sergeant. (Courtesy photo)

After nearly eight years in the military, with the rank of captain, he and his wife Mallory decided it was time to retire. It was one of the more difficult decisions they would have to make. “We had a 2-and-a-half-year old and a newborn and we began to think of the long-term benefits for the family,” he said. Mallory helped him “tremendously,” with the decision to leave the Marine Corps. “We’re a team,” he said.

They achieved the longtime dream of going back to Shelter Island to live and raise Colton, born in 2014, and Chase, born in 2017.

Achieving the next goal, serving the public as a Shelter Island Police Officer, took more time than he had anticipated. He was hired by the department in September 2019 and graduated from the Suffolk Police Academy in April 2020. But the pandemic delayed things. He was officially sworn in by the Town Board in August of this year.

Growing up, Veterans Day and attending celebrations on the Island, “I knew what it was about,” he said, but it doesn’t have the same impact as being an adult and a vet himself. “It’s not about me as an individual. I think of all the men and women who served. It’s about a day for the small percentage of people who chose to raise their right hand and promise to defend their loved ones and their country and to sacrifice all for that.”

The idea that now, with no draft and a professional military, some kind of national service would be a requirement for young people, either in the armed forces, or, for example, the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, is appealing to Officer Clark.

“The military is not for everyone,” he said, “but absolutely, I’m in favor of people serving. I think it’s a great idea to provide an avenue for people to serve.”

On Veterans Day this year, he’ll take a break from feeling jet-lagged by changing tours of duty on the Island. “I’m taking the day off,” Officer Clark said, to take part in the festivities planned by his hometown.