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    A Navy Experience: 23 Years in the Making

    A Navy Experience: 23 Years in the Making

    Photo By Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelsey Hockenberger | SANTA RITA, Guam (Jan. 11, 2020) Chief Fire Control Technician Thomas Huebner, from...... read more read more

    Santa Rita, Guam (Jan. 19, 2021) – To a gangly teenager from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, with a penchant for science fiction, a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine was the stuff of hopes and dreams.

    Written is love, war, sweat, dedication, change and the spirit of the Navy from the life of Chief Fire Control Technician Thomas Huebner, a Sailor assigned to Commander, Submarine Squadron 15.

    His story begins in the small blue-collar town where he was raised and learned to be an Eagle Scout and an engineer.

    “I had been in the Boy Scouts since kindergarten and eventually earned Eagle Scout at the age of 18, learning how to follow procedures, working together, training and leadership” said Huebner. “By the time I was in high school, I learned that I enjoyed the mechanical side of things through engineering courses and competitions. It intrigued me.”

    In 1996, multiple opportunities were laid before Huebner as he took a new step in life after high school. There was only one option that called to him, and he saw it at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Central Pennsylvania.

    “I was looking into the numbers, and it seemed like a stretch for what it would cost my parents to send me to college,” explained Huebner. “Not long after I found myself looking into the military. That’s when I found myself in this ramshackle longhouse sort of building from WWII. Inside were exposed pipes with stenciled letters and numbers. I saw them and felt a kind of calling that felt right, like it was calling home. It felt like the right answer at the time, and it still does to this day.”

    Huebner’s love of science fiction and the unusual led him to sign the dotted line and become a Fire Control Technician in the Navy’s submarine force.

    “I got in trouble far too many times in class for reading science fiction,” he said. “The hard science fiction is what appealed to me. Submarines is just an extension of that because it is such an outside of the normal world. It is a self-contained world in and of itself. Traveling from point A to point B using only a limited number of sensors in a nuclear powered vessel in an environment that is completely antithetical to human life.”

    “I was described what an FT actually does within that world,” continued Huebner. “From deciding how the submarine is going to go, interpreting the sensor input data and telling the officer of the deck driving the submarine, shooting Tomahawk missiles, and hunting submarines and surface ships. That hooked me as a 17 year old and actually still does to this day.”

    At 18 years old, he began his new journey in the Navy with the essential milestone called bootcamp, where he served in one of the first divisions to be integrated with women. This may be a make or break point for many who join the military, but not for Thomas Huebner who still reflects on one specific moment.

    “One of our sailors was throwing trash outside of the window,” remembered Huebner. “Our recruit division commanders (RDC) brought in Chief Fire Control Technician Lynch. Being a baby FT, this is what I wanted to be and thought this was what an FT is supposed to look like. He was larger than life, built like a lumberjack, and stern as anything. I remember doing flutter kicks and struggling as I was pushing myself. Chief Lynch walked up to me and said, “keep it up.” He continued on to another Sailor who was goofing off. The hell that was unleashed on that kid is something I have not forgotten. It was nothing physical because there was no need for him to touch a Sailor due to his voice, his presence, his stare and words.”

    “The lesson I learned from that was if a person is actually trying, give them encouragement to keep pushing. Those that you know can do more or better but choose not to is another story. That held true through my entire career.”

    After graduating bootcamp and specialized rate and submarine schooling, Huebner went on to be a Fire Control Technician in the fleet. His duty stations include: the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS San Juan (SSN 751), Virginia-class C3I Testing Detachment, the Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726), Commander, Task Force 74 (CTF 74), the Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727), and Commander, Submarine Squadron 15 (CSS-15).

    Huebner’s career in the Navy spans over the course of 23 years with seven of that spent deployed at sea. He was there for the Bosnian War, 9/11, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, and the COVID-19 Task Force Hotel in Guam.

    On March 11, 2011, Huebner was stationed at CTF-74 working out of the closet-sized strike cell office when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit. Over the course of a couple of days, he saw a country devastated by natural disasters. An earthquake triggered a tsunami and in turn initiated a severe nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    “We had to evacuate the building when the earthquake occurred,” said Huebner as he thought about the event. “Over the weekend, I watched the news live on NHK as the nuclear power plant actually burst, spilling fallout all over the country. We stood up the Emergency Control Center. I did the logistics work, moved people and equipment into and around parts of japan, to meet the needs of the U.S. response to the disaster. The Eagle Scout in me kicked in and I was in a state of being prepared as I lived in my office for days at a time. We watched as that country absolutely came together.”

    The submarine force made history as women were united into their forces. One of the first boats integrated with women was the Michigan where Huebner experienced the integration firsthand.

    Huebner said, “These women are my sisters and my heroes. I would have them in my fleet and in my Navy any day. We experienced a lot of growing pains with that, but we were all adults in the end.”

    He’s experienced launching Tomahawk missiles, leading a strike cell, flooding on a submarine, the Navy’s first guided-missile submarine, and fighting fires.

    A fire had occurred on one the boats Huebner was on. It was one of many moments that has stuck with him throughout his career.

    “I saw everyone work in action,” remembered Huebner. “All of the drilling we had done and all of our preparations came down to this moment. Not all of it went according to plan, but everyone knew what the hell was supposed to happen. What should have been a major casualty turned into just some burned equipment. We came off mission, ventilated the air, fixed the equipment and went back on station.”

    “Is there one defining moment,” asked Huebner as he thought about his career. “I’d like to think that there isn’t. A person’s career is not defined by one moment, but an accumulation of many. The last 23 years have been amazing.”

    Huebner has traveled the world from the United States to Japan, from Italy to Australia, from Philippines to Spain, from Pearl Harbor to Greece, from Singapore to Canada, and from Turkey to Guam.

    He’s grown from a blank slate in bootcamp into a Chief Petty Officer. He sees himself as a Sailor, fireman, brother, warrior, leader, son, father, husband, Eagle Scout, mentor, good example, bad example, student and teacher.

    “The Navy has given me everything,” said Huebner. “I came in at 18 years old with a blank slate. For anyone who does this job fully, I don’t think that there is anything they are not. I don’t know what I have not been. There are times when we may not be that teacher or brother or leader, but we are our own worst critics.”

    His last steps in the Navy dwindle down as he transitions to retirement.

    “There’s three things I like to pass on,” said Huebner. “Give a damn, leave it better than how you found it, and if you see someone that needs help, help. A small thing to you may not be so small to others. You don’t walk 5,000 miles in one giant step. It’s hundreds of thousands of steps, and if you help that person on a 5,000 mile journey with one step, that’s something.”

    Though his time in the Navy is coming to an end, his influences live on through those around him. Huebner is scheduled to retire from the Navy in February, 2021.




    Date Taken: 01.19.2021
    Date Posted: 01.18.2021 22:03
    Story ID: 387115
    Location: SANTA RITA, GU 
    Hometown: HUMMELSTOWN, PA, US

    Web Views: 300
    Downloads: 2