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Timothy Mays
Sonar Technician

Service: Navy     |     Status: Enlisted

We really don’t talk about what we do as a submarine force. That’s one reason why we call it the Silent Service. But basically I’m a sonar technician, which means we make sure that the ship doesn’t hit anything that makes noise. If it makes noise, we figure out what it is, where it is.

Before I joined the Navy, I had earned my degree in geology. I worked for a little more than a year in the e-business services of a large technology company, so I knew my way around a wide variety of computers. The company and I parted ways, and then I started the process to join the Navy. I wanted to qualify to be a sonar technician because I wanted to get my master’s degree in either applied mathematics or physical oceanography. I think it is the best enlisted job to really get to work with oceanography.

When I went through advanced training, I was taught the basics of sound and how it works in water, how things move in the water and how to calculate the geometries. After you’re assigned to your submarine, you learn a lot of the technical details of your system.

You’re not really a useful member of the crew until you earn your submarine warfare pin — or your dolphins, as we call it. And to do that, you have to learn every system in the ship with a certain degree of proficiency. So just because I’m a sonar tech doesn’t mean I don’t have a basic understanding of how the sub’s nuclear reactor works.

When you are in the submarine force, you’re at sea more often than not. You have no personal external communication with the outside world for extended periods, and you can’t see the sun or anything else. All you have is a steel tube with machinery and 130 or more people aboard. You learn how to live with a lot of different people in close proximity. It’s a skill set you develop, the ability to work together in a small, confined enclosure for very long periods of time with the same group of people under high levels of stress.

I figured I was going to do my five years of enlistment and then go do my master’s program and move on from there. But about four years in, a sonar tech exchange program with the Royal Australian Navy started. I put in my paperwork for it, and I actually got selected. I was part of the first group to be fully integrated into an Australian submarine crew. I learned how to view tactics and everything differently. It is so that our two navies can exchange some ideas at the deck plates and have an even better understanding of each other.

Since I already have a degree, I applied for Officer Candidate School and I was selected. I’ll be transferring to the surface warfare community. I don’t know where I’ll be stationed. It’s still in the future. As a surface warfare officer, the end goal is usually command of your own ship. I know I could probably go back to a big corporation in the private sector, but I’d be largely bored, and I’d wonder about my job’s purpose. Because here I can see the bigger picture and get the sense I’m actually doing something useful.

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