SANTA RITA, Guam – A 2010 Harmony Magnet Academy graduate and Terra Bella native is serving with the U.S. Navy aboard one of the world’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines, USS Key West.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Skiff is an electronics technician (nuclear) aboard the Guam-based submarine, one of four Los Angeles-class submarines forward-deployed on the island.
A Navy electronics technician (nuclear) is responsible for operating and managing electronics systems on the boat.
Skiff credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned in Terra Bella.
“The high school I went to was geared toward engineering and sciences,” Skiff said. “It got me used to the mental workload. I finished early because I was able to get through the courses so quickly.”
Jobs are highly varied aboard the submarine. Approximately 130 sailors make up the submarine’s crew, doing everything from handling weapons to maintaining nuclear reactors.
Attack submarines are designed to hunt down and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; strike targets ashore with cruise missiles; carry and deliver Navy SEALs; carry out intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions; and engage in mine warfare. Their primary tactical advantage is stealth, operating undetected under the sea for long periods of time.
“As the only forward deployed submarine squadron, we are the quick reaction force for the Navy. We can respond quickly to any crisis,” said Capt. Tim Poe, Commodore, Submarine Squadron 15. “It’s spectacular the work our Sailors do. We ask a lot of them and they always meet the challenge.”
According to Navy officials, because of the demanding environment aboard submarines, personnel are accepted only after rigorous testing and observation. Submariners are some of the most highly-trained and skilled people in the Navy. Regardless of their specialty, everyone has to learn how everything on the ship works and how to respond in emergencies to become “qualified in submarines” and earn the right to wear the coveted gold or silver dolphins on their uniform.
“I enjoy serving here because we’re doing things that most of the submarine fleet would never get to do because were forward deployed,” Skiff said. “I never heard of Guam before joining the Navy, let alone thought of having the chance of being stationed here.”
According to officials at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the ships, submarines, aircraft and Navy personnel forward-deployed to Guam are part of the world’s largest fleet command and serve in a region critical to U.S. national security. The U.S. Pacific Fleet encompasses 100 million square miles, nearly half the Earth’s surface, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. All told, there are more than 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 uniformed and civilian personnel serving in the Pacific.
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Skiff is most proud of earning the submarine qualification pin.
“I would have never imagined six or ten years ago that I would be serving on submarines being able to see the world like we do here,” Skiff said.
Serving in the Navy means Skiff is part of a world that is taking on new importance in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of the National Defense Strategy.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80 percent of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90 percent of all global trade by volume travels by sea.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Skiff and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes, one that will provide a critical component of the Navy the nation needs.
“Being from an almost desolate part of California it does my heart good knowing that people I have never met and people I have never heard of are seeing that you can succeed outside of California,” Skiff said.