Imagine working and living all day, every day, in a 370-foot long, 33-foot wide, three-story structure with no windows. One day the doors are sealed, allowing the structure to submerge beneath the surface of the ocean and travel silently through the dark depths of the sea for months at a time.
Bakersfield native and 2008 North High School graduate Zachary T. Blattenberg doesn't have to imagine such a life. He volunteered for it, trained for it and lives it alongside 130 other sailors serving aboard the USS Hawaii, one of the Navy's newest and most technologically sophisticated attack submarines.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Blattenberg, 24, is a machinist's mate aboard the Pearl Harbor-based vessel, which carries anti-ship torpedoes and cruise missiles armed with conventional high-explosive warheads with the capability to attack enemy shore facilities.
But attack subs may also be called upon to gather intelligence, perform surveillance and reconnaissance missions and support special operations.
As a young man with numerous responsibilities, Blattenberg said submarine duty has helped him learn more about himself -- as a leader, sailor and as a person. While he's already done a lot in the Navy, the submariner counts his greatest accomplishment as something more personal.
"I have to say marrying my wife is it," he said. "She really has saved me and made me a better person."
Hawaii, along with all other U.S. Navy submarines, is manned solely by volunteers from within the Navy. Because of the stressful environment aboard submarines, personnel are accepted only after rigorous testing and observation. Submariners are some of the most highly trained and skilled people in the Navy.
The training is highly technical and each crew has to be able to operate, maintain and repair every system or piece of equipment on board. Regardless of their specialty, everyone also has to learn how everything on the ship works and how to respond in emergencies to become "qualified in submarines" and earn the right to wear the coveted gold or silver dolphins on their uniform.
Sub duty is a busy life of specialized work, watches and drills. Sailors typically get about six hours of sleep per day.
"I'm very proud of all USS Hawaii sailors and equally impressed with the type and quality of work that goes aboard the submarine each day," said Cmdr. William A. Patterson, the attack sub's commanding officer.
"Our team is filled with highly qualified young adults, reliable, flexible and ready to respond worldwide at any time. Their work ethic, enthusiasm and esprit de corps are second to none and they are the backbone of the Navy's undersea warfighting capability."
The U.S. Navy has begun distributing mini profiles of sailors from Kern County serving their country. This is an edited version of one of its submissions.