Editor’s note: Sailors of SUBASE is an ongoing series in The Dolphin, featuring Sailors from all over Naval Submarine Base New London (SUBASE).
GROTON, Conn. – When he is not teaching future sonar technicians the details of their craft, Sonar Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Matthew Northfell sings the national anthem for Navy and patriotic functions in and around his local community.
A native of the Great Lakes, Northfell grew up in northern Illinois and joined the Navy after going to college in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Both my grandfathers were in the Navy,” said Northfell. “I stopped going to college because I didn’t want to take out any more loans to pay for school. I moved back home from Grand Rapids after my grandmother passed away. My father said, ‘Both your grandfathers were in the Navy. Maybe that’s something you could check out.’ I went to the recruiting office and liked what I saw and entered the Delayed Entry Program in fall 2009, left for boot camp April 2010.”
Taking an interest in the nature of sound, Northfell was drawn to the sonar community and by extension submarines.
“My mom said, ‘Do anything but submarines!’” said Northfell. “At MEPS [Military Entry Processing Station] they showed me the different ratings and sonar really spoke to me because I wanted to go to school for media and audio production. I was in bands all through college. The whole idea of sound propagation and acoustics really struck me. I was excited to be the eyes and ears of the boat.”
Like a line of notation, musical interest and skill runs through the Northfell family. Northfell said his parents both had musical talent and his grandfather was in a choir. That grandfather, Northfell says, is who from whom he inherited his voice.
“I’ve been singing my whole life,” said Northfell. “In school I took band in elementary because it was required but once you get to middle school it’s optional and I kept with it. I was also really involved in my church choir. I helped a lot with the music worship program. I was going to college to become a youth pastor and lead music worship. I started playing guitar in senior year of high school. It was a gift from my dad and I became really passionate.”
Northfell’s first command was a pre-commissioned submarine, which meant he had a lot of time on shore and opportunities to represent the Navy to the local community. This was the start of Northfell’s singing for the Navy.
“I graduated ‘A’ School in April 2011 and reported to then PCU Mississippi that May,” said Northfell. “Due to us being in the shipyard we had a lot of time for volunteer events and a strong community relations program. At the time the community relations coordinator, MMA1 [Machinist’s Mate (Auxiliary)] Jamie Pierson saw me singing at open mic nights. He had the contact for SUBASE Public Affairs and said they needed people to sing the national anthem.”
Northfell’s voice would bring a new level of dignity and honor to Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL) graduation ceremonies and building commissioning ceremonies onboard Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London. Eventually, Northfell would sing off base for similar patriotic events, representing the Navy throughout New England.
“I sang at the building dedication for the Submarine Learning Center and the small arms range,” said Northfell. “I’ve done a bunch of events for SUBVETS [Submarine Veterans Inc.]. That ended after Mississippi started getting underway. October 2016 I came back here to SUBSCOL and an old shipmate of mine, Chief Martin, put my name out there for singing the national anthem at graduations. They held graduations in Lewis Hall at the time due to construction but that building didn’t have a PA system, so they were playing the national anthem off a cell phone. They thought it would enrich it if I sang it. I did it once and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
An instructor at SUBSCOL, Northfell also leads the Silver Dolphins, SUBSCOL’s honor guard, which performs drills and carries the national colors at events such as parades and Navy functions. Northfell said he takes pride in his position because he can impart some of that pride onto junior Sailors before they go to the fleet.
“That’s been my biggest honor to influence the careers of Sailors before they go to the fleet, establishing that dedication to honor, courage, commitment, and the U.S. Navy,” said Northfell. “The Silver Dolphins are pretty much the face of the Navy in the region. There are parts of New England and Connecticut that don’t see much of the Navy and it’s an honor to be a small note in their career, whether four years or 20, 30 years.”
Northfell further stressed the importance of pride in one’s service. Pride can spur Sailors on to better learn their job and better fulfill their duties.
“It’s my personal Hooyah,” said Northfell. “My love and appreciation for the Navy and patriotism for this country. It’s a fun service I can provide for service men and women who serve today and have in the past for this beautiful country. I was a Silver Dolphin. Putting the focus on people is a big part of our mission so we can go out and execute the biggest mission of all, warfighting readiness and taking the fight to the enemy.”