NORFOLK, Va. (WJRT) NOTE: This story is reprinted with permission from the U.S. Navy.
(11/8/2018) - A 1997 Birch Run High School graduate is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard one of the Navy’s fast attack submarines, USS Newport News.
Chief Petty Officer Michael Sawchuk is an information systems technician (submarines) aboard the Norfolk-based submarine.
A Navy information systems technician is responsible for installation, maintenance and repair of submarine and shipboard information systems, including local area networks and computers and database administration.
“Being able to work with advanced technology systems and train others is invaluable,” said Sawchuk. “I have learned so much during my time in the submarine service that no matter what path I choose when I retire, I know I will be successful.”
Sawchuk credits his success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned in Birch Run.
“As an avid cyclist and outdoorsman, I find that perseverance, planning, and foresight required for these activities, has served me well in my Navy career,” said Sawchuk. “In the submarine service, you have to always think ahead, the planning never stops. Your job requires you to always be ready when called upon, an important lesson I learned when I was younger.”
Newport News is a nuclear- powered fast attack submarine class 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.
With a crew of 130, this submarine is 361 feet long and displaces approximately 7,800 tons. Newport News’ nuclear-powered propulsion system helps push the submarine through the water at more than 25 mph and to depths greater than 800 feet.
A key element of the Navy’s mission is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, according to Navy officials, 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.
Sawchuk is the second generation to serve in the military but the first to join the Navy and serve aboard submarines.
“My grandfather was a Marine and served in WWII stationed on the USS Pennsylvania, so I take pride in the fact that I was able to contribute to the family legacy of service,” said Sawchuk.
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community, and career, Sawchuk is most proud of being a submariner.
“I will soon transfer to the fleet reserves and retire essentially, ending my twenty one years of service to the Navy,” said Sawchuk. “I will leave with the satisfaction knowing I served my country and I’ve trained my reliefs.”
Submariners are some of the most highly-trained and skilled sailors in the Navy. The training programs are highly technical to ensure each crew has to be able to operate, maintain, and repair every system or piece of equipment on board.
Regardless of their specialty, every submariner also has to learn how every system on the submarine works and how to respond in emergencies. To become qualified in submarines is challenging, however it earns the sailor the right to wear the coveted “dolphins” and a life-long respect among colleagues and veterans.
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Sawchuk and his fellow submariners 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.
“I joined the Navy for the adventure,” said Sawchuk. “I wanted to travel and gain life experience but I also wanted to make a difference in the world. Being able to pursue my passion of working with high tech equipment has also allowed me to improve my abilities and to contribute in a meaningful way to the Navy’s mission.”
With only 130 elite sailors assigned, submarine crews build strong fellowship, are highly motivated and quickly adapt to changing conditions. A career as in submarines is a life of specialized work, unique missions, and some of the most advanced training in the Navy.