I served in the US Naval submarine force from 1986-2006. I retired as a first class petty officer submarine sonar technician.
I entered the US military because of financial concerns when I was deciding to go to college. I was 17 years old, my father passed away 3 years earlier and it was just me and my mother at home. I had no idea about financial aid, government grants, or scholarships. Moreover, since my grades in high school were average at best, not many people were willing to help me.
I joined the US navy Delayed Entry Program that allows 17 year olds to sign up for orders awaiting their 18th birthday. My mother was not happy me being the last child to leave home.
On my 18th birthday I left for boot camp in Great Lakes, IL. Within the first week I wanted to quit, but I stuck it out and graduated. I then went to Basic Electricity and Electronic training in Great Lakes, Submarine school in Groton CT and Submarine Sonar School in San Diego, CA. It was a total of two years of training.
After completing my initial training I reported to the USS Minneapolis ST Paul (SSN 708) home ported in Norfolk VA. My first command was an awakening to me. I was barely 20 years old and had the responsibility of maintaining and assisting in the safe navigation of a crew of 140 men. Moreover, I was part of a team of sonar technicians that were responsible for gathering intelligence on some very secret missions during the Cold War.
After my four year tour on SSN 708 I reenlisted for 6 years and reported to a three year shore tour and submarine training facility in Norfolk VA. While I was there I taught Submarine Acoustic Analysis.
I then reported to the USS Spadefish (SSN 668). This was an older class submarine, a 637 sturgeon class, vice the Los Angeles 688 class submarine. But regardless of age, we did some pretty amazing things. Within the 2 years I was onboard her, we completed 2 major deployments, one a 6 months deployment to the Persian Gulf and another around the world cruise for 8 months.
I decommissioned the Spadefish then reported back to the USS Minneapolis ST Paul for another 2 years. During that tour we conducted much of the same missions that I had during my first tour.
Next was another shore duty tour. This time I reported to Submarine School in Groton CT where I taught sonar electronics. It was a good tour, but my experience was based more on intelligence vice maintenance, so I felt a little out of my element.
9/11 occurred while I was teaching at submarine school and I was quickly sent back to sea. I reported to the USS Toledo for my final tour. The USS Toledo is a 688i class submarine that has vertical tomahawk missiles located in the bow. I completed 4 missions while I was attached to Toledo. The Toledo was a missile shooter during the Gulf War. The Toledo holds the record of the fastest submarines launch salvo. After launching we returned to the states and were then ordered to return to the gulf for deployment. It took a huge strain on my wife and children. But we made it through.
I retired in 2006 and started to work as a curriculum developer at Submarine Learning Center. In 2009 I went to work at the US Coast Guard Academy where I am to this day.
The military has been great for me. I left home an unsecure kid that never saw much of the world. I did marginal in high school and was afraid to take changes. While I was in the military I earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degree and a graduate certificate. I was able to complete my education without stepping foot in a college classroom! Through hard work, testing, self study and distance learning, I qualified everything I could, and learned everything I could.
Of course looking back, I had some regrets. However, joining the military was never one of them. I wish I was able to keep my weight in military standards. This held my promotional status. I also wish I had pursued a commission every time I was offered some recommendations. But life is full of challenges no matter what career path you choose.
I am so glad to be a veteran. I have never received any negative comments from any person I know. Remember that the US military is only 1% of the US population. That is a monumental task for such a small military force. That is why every veteran can hold their head high.