By Alvin Plexico, Navy Office of Community Outreach
GROTON, Conn. – A 2010 Waukee, Iowa, native and 2010 Waukee High School graduate is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard one of the world’s most advanced nuclear-powered submarines, USS San Juan.
The submarine recently returned home after a deployment where they served as ambassadors during port visits to Falsane, Scotland and Rota, Spain.
“This was my second deployment,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronnie Hibbard. “People may not think about submarines because they can't see us, but we're doing really cool stuff all the time, even if they don't know we're there.”
Hibbard works as a sonar technician serving aboard the Groton-based submarine in the U.S. Navy. A Navy sonar technician is responsible for using sound to navigate the ship while listening to other ships in the water.
Hibbard continues to have strong ties to Iowa, where his father, Edward Elam, and mother, Loren Elam, still live. “Going to middle and high school in Iowa, I learned the importance of having a good work ethic,” said Hibbard. "This is also important in the military, especially on a submarine."
Jobs are highly varied aboard the submarine. Approximately 130 sailors make up the submarine’s crew, doing everything from handling weapons to maintaining nuclear reactors. Attack submarines are 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.
“The U.S. Navy submarine force has one of the highest operational tempos in the U.S. Navy and Naval Submarine Support Center, New London plays a vital role in helping Groton-based submarines maintain their excellent readiness,” said Cmdr. Brian J. Nowak, Commanding Officer, Naval Submarine Support Center, New London. “The warfighters operating the submarines at the tip of the spear, and those who are building the Navy’s newest nuclear powered submarines can only do so because of the vast network of support they receive from the shore side. The professional sailors and civilians at Naval Submarine Support Center, New London serve a key role in that network. I am honored that I get to serve every day with outstanding sailors.”
According to Navy officials, because of the demanding 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. Regardless of their specialty, everyone 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. Becoming a submariner is an accomplishment in itself.
Hibbard is also proud of his son, Ellis, who was born July 19, 2017, just 8 weeks before he deployed. "I'm also thankful and proud of my wife, Brianna, who has been raising a newborn by herself while working and finishing her master’s degree," said Hibbard.Given the unique operating environment, members of the Submarine community build strong fellowship among the elite crew, Navy officials explained. The crews are highly motivated and quickly adapt to changing conditions. It is a busy life of specialized work, watches and drills. “Serving in the Navy means I can provide stability for my family while doing something my son can look up to and be proud of,” added Hibbard.