Frank Martinez served in the Navy as a sonar technician from 1985 until 2000.
For someone who has worked as a sonar technician aboard submarines for almost 20 years, Piedmont can be a strange place to end up.
Frank Martinez is retired from a distinguished career in the Navy but he looks back fondly on his time spent defending America’s water ways and the bond he established with his fellow sailors. A recruiting job brought Martinez and his family to Oklahoma, but despite living thousands of miles from the nearest coast, Martinez continues to feel a connection with the sea.
Martinez, a native of the Chicago area, was looking for a change and decided to make a move to California. While in the San Francisco area, Martinez grew interested in the military and thought the Navy might provide him the opportunity to learn a new skill and see the world. During basic training, Martinez showed a lot of promise, winning the Sailor of the Year award and was accepted into the Navy League.
Martinez spent his first few years in the Navy advancing from boot camp to electronics school and eventually submarine school in Connecticut.
“I was learning everything about the sub,” Martinez said. “I learned different types of systems and everything you would need to know. I found out I was good at it.”
Training to serve aboard a submarine is an intense process but the final step before serving is a visit to a therapist to test one’s mental stability.
“The last thing they do is send you to a shrink,” Martinez said. “They have to make sure you are ready and that your not claustrophobic because it’s going to be really tight quarters.”
Eventually, Martinez was commissioned to the U.S.S. Spade Fish, a submarine capable of holding up to 160 crew members. It was aboard this vessel that Martinez got his first taste of life on a submarine.
“On the sub everyone is expected to pull their weight,” Martinez said. “Everyone has a job for every situation.”
Cramped quarters, a low level of oxygen and maneuvers that take the submarine on a coarse resembling a corkscrew can take their toll on a person. Martinez says you have to stay sharp on the sub and are always training to get better. A typical shift schedule aboard a submarine includes six hours on, followed by 12 hours off. After a few days, Martinez said you start to lose your sense of time and place.
“It gets to the point where you don’t even know what day it is,” Martinez said.
From 1985 to 1991, Martinez severed on the same submarine and continued to advance in his sonar training. Martinez was eventually transferred to Bangor Base in Washington state where he served as a ship superintendent, overseeing ship decommissioning. But after a few years, Martinez was back on a sub, this time serving on the Parche from 1995 to 2000.
Following his time on the Parche, Martinez was ordered back to shore duty, this time as a recruiter in the Oklahoma region. Stationed out of Yukon, Martinez and his family settled down in Piedmont, a long ways from life on a submarine, but they felt it was an ideal place to raise a family.
Retired from the Navy, Martinez now works as an underwater surveyor. His two sons, Max and Nick, are currently serving in the Coast Guard, and his daughter, Gabriela, is a student at Piedmont High School. Martinez is proud of his military service and believes his experiences remain with him to this day.
“For me the best part was the experience of being a part of something,” Martinez said. “You learn how to manage crisis really well and grow close to those around you.”
Life aboard a submarine was never easy, but Martinez said he quickly learned that teamwork is the best way to address challenges, both at sea and at home.
“There were times that you weren’t sure if you’d come back because you were in someone else’s backyard,” Martinez said. “It got pretty hairy at times, but we relied on each other and stayed focus on our missions.”