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. – Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class David Guerra has worked many a fast-paced and dangerous job during his eight years in the Navy, but now as he finds himself in the slower-paced environment of shore duty he reflects on the importance of when to go fast and when to slow down.
Born in the little town of Mission, Texas, but raised in San Antonio, Guerra joined the Navy to pay for college and carry on a family tradition. What started as a short-term plan for Guerra ultimately proved to be a long-term commitment.
“I have a lot of family in the Navy,” said Guerra. “My dad was a Boatswain’s Mate and my uncle was a chief. It was just second nature and I wasn’t ready to go to college—nor could I afford it. The plan was always to join the Navy, serve four years, get out, go to college after. It turned out to just be better to stay in and then I had a family, so here I am. It’ll be eight years this December .”
Guerra initially enlisted as a Naval aircrewman, but ultimately was sent as an undesignated seaman to USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), where he sailed on two deployments and cut his teeth on the precision maneuvers of seamanship.
“It was a good command to go to,” said Guerra of Philippine Sea. “I made a lot of friends, but because I was a deck seaman, I sometimes got pushed aside over the rated BMs, but I qualified ESWS [enlisted surface warfare specialist] really early. Me and three other deck seamen were the first to get our pins on deployment. After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I finally struck Boatswain’s Mate in January 2015 and took the exam in March and made BM3 [boatswain’s mate 3rd class.”
During his time aboard the Philippine Sea, Guerra and the other boatswain’s mates regularly undertook the delicate job of guiding their ship through narrow canals. Guerra said he enjoyed the work and he and his shipmates took great pride in what they did during those deployments.
“I remember when we drove through the Suez Canal,” said Guerra. “I had qualified master helmsman and there were only two of us at the time. I was senior master helmsman so I had to qualify the next two guys. We drove into the Suez and had to do six-hour rotations. You’re driving for six hours through this tiny little canal and you can see land on both sides.”
Requiring just as much precision but a great deal more stamina was when Guerra and his shipmates unloaded cargo from helicopters; a task they did on both the ship’s forecastle and fantail. In neither case did the helicopter ever touch down on the Philippine Sea and Guerra got to experience first-hand the full thrust of an MH-60S Seahawk’s rotors.
“We had never done a vertical replenishment on the forecastle,” said Guerra. “It’s a tiny space with a little square where the cargo has to come down. BM2 [boatswain’s mate 2nd class] Jackson was holding on to me because the helicopter was only about 20 feet above. The forecastle is really open so you get a lot of crosswind. I remember him holding onto me while the rotor wash was coming down from the helicopter and it was so strong—I’m a big guy—I felt like I was going to get lifted off my feet. We had to anchor ourselves down. Shortly after, we did another one on the fantail. It was a first for all of us. I’m glad we got to do that because that was the first time in a long time anyone had done something like that. I remember one time I was looking at the cargo, breaking it down, and I turn and hit my helmet on the helicopter! It didn’t hurt, it was just like ‘oh look, a helicopter two feet above me!’ I just kept moving. That’s what you have to do, especially in our rate. It’s an inherently dangerous job.”
After completing his tour of duty on Philippine Sea, Guerra was given orders to Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London where he now works in the Port Operations Department. In contrast to the nonstop, high-energy action of a guided-missile cruiser underway, Guerra’s workload at SUBASE New London, though still imperatively important to the Navy’s mission, is considerably slower-paced than before. At SUBASE New London Guerra and other Sailors operate harbor patrol boats and aide submarines in getting underway and returning to port. Guerra said he at first found the change of pace jarring and yearned to once again serve aboard a ship, but his leadership convinced him to stay and make the most of his shore duty.
“Here at SUBASE the pace is a lot slower,” said Guerra. “It’s a good break, especially for a [boatswain’s mate], but it can be hard for us, because we’re so used to high tempo work. When I had been here for three months, I said to my chief at the time I wanted to go back to sea. He told me to enjoy my time here. At the end of the day I’m glad I stayed. I got to go back to college and my wife got pregnant and had our baby last October. I have this beautiful 11-month old daughter and I’m really glad I’m here because I can see her birthdays, first steps, first words; the other things I would’ve missed if I were out at sea.”
Guerra said he believes the important thing for a Sailor to do while on shore duty is to use the free time to develop themselves as a person. For himself, Guerra has made a point to get a degree in human resources, build his family and volunteer for the community.
“One of my other shipmates was volunteering at the New London soup kitchen. I figured I can do that. The soup kitchen can serve like 200 people a day. I did that for a while, then my baby came and I put that on hold. I said, ‘okay, family time now.’ My wife and I have been married just over seven years and she’s been with me for two deployments. She deserved a lot of attention. She’s been my backbone since I joined the Navy, and now I can give her the time she deserves.”
Guerra added the important thing for Sailors coming from the fleet to shore duty is to never lose their mindset. It is one thing to gain land-legs, but a Sailor should never lose their sea-legs. For junior Sailors who came from training, Guerra advises them that shore duty is only a tiny taste of things to come.
“For Sailors coming off sea duty, whether a submarine, ship, air squadron, keep your mindset the same; work hard, don’t slow down,” said Guerra. “You don’t go to shore duty to get lazy, you go to shore duty to take a break, but the work and the mindset needs to stay the same. If you let yourself slow down, you put yourself behind the Sailors who are keeping pace. For the Sailors coming here from boot camp and ‘A’ school—because we get a few of those, too—they get to see a small portion of what the Navy is like until they go to their boat. Just remember, take the time to listen to those who have been there and done it. Take what they tell you to heart. It’ll make a difference when you go to your boat or squadron for the first time. Don’t lose the mindset, don’t lose the work ethic. Take a break, but always keep your focus on progressing.”
For Sailors, transferring from one command to another can be a dramatic shift, especially when that shift is from standing beneath helicopters several times a week to manning the lines pierside assisting a submarine get underway. Guerra shows there is a time for everything, and that includes a time to build one’s career and a time to build one’s self. The important thing, in either case, is to never stop building.