From Babychop to Battlechop

July 7, 2017 | By kgabel
VIRIN: 170707-N-ZZ219-6318
Lt. Michael Marchese As I wrote this, I looked down at my gold dolphins that I wear so proudly on my chest and memories flooded my mind of days past aboard the mighty fast-attack submarine, USS Annapolis (SSN 760). I also remembered looking down to the left side of my chest back in December of 2012 and seeing U.S. Navy written on my Navy Working Uniform and longing to add some “fish” above those words. At the time though, the path to reaching my goal was uncertain. Although I may not have showed it much, I was nervous because I did not want to fail. Day one, I had about 11.5 active duty months in the service, some schooling under my belt, and I was ready to hit the ground running. I had just checked aboard a Los Angeles-class submarine as the supply officer. I was a baby-faced, 24-year old ensign now assuming my duties as one of four department heads on a nuclear-powered warship, but it would be a while before Ensign Marchese became “Battlechop,” a term of endearment bestowed upon only the most tactical supply officers out there who wholeheartedly become submariners during their tours. In fact, the senior chief yeoman who I checked in with called me “Babychop,” until I truly earned his respect. My first couple of months as the supply officer tested me in every way. The Annapolis was finishing up a maintenance period in Groton, Connecticut. We had to quickly reopen a galley that had been closed for months, ready the ship logistically in order to support the next year of deployment workups, and boost the morale of a crew that had not been out to sea for quite some time. This was all accomplished while pushing through some personnel issues, figuring out an efficient way to complete all of my daily, weekly, and monthly requirements, and trying to earn the respect of the crew. Ultimately, this meant early days and late nights, and there were certainly moments of doubt. The outlook was bleak and the nervousness was still there. Fast forward about six months and I was thriving. The quick pace of the operational day, the harmony of the entire ship working together to route and deliver a casualty report requisition to the commanding officer, multiple daily meetings and briefings, parts coming and going, the next meal never being more than a few hours away, and the ship getting underway – I loved it all! I found out how to be useful to the ship, which at the heart of it is all a submariner really needs to be – useful to the ship and the crew. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you are from, or whether you are a male or female. Submariners just want their shipmates to be useful to the ship, to pull their own weight, and to be ready to fight a casualty in case of emergency. For me, being useful to the ship meant that I had to be the “chop” through and through, taking charge of S1 and S2 divisions and running those divisions soundly. I was not yet the “battlechop” that I would eventually become, but I was certainly the chop. I could always be relied on by the captain, my peers, and my subordinates to support the ship logistically in a legal and moral way. That’s what made me the chop. At the nine-month mark, I had spent most of my time at sea and momentum was in my favor. I qualified as a submarine supply officer on September 22, 2013 and officially joined a community rich in tradition and pride. Earning my fish made all of the rigorous work and the process of qualifying pay off, as I had never been more proud in my entire life up to that point. The feats that U.S. Navy submarines have accomplished in every major modern war is a testament to the caliber of person that calls him or herself a “bubblehead”. My boat deployed to U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command in early March of 2014. At this point, my department was firing on all cylinders after having successfully prepared for a six-plus-month deployment overseas. In addition, I had been submarine qualified for half of a year at that time and was fully integrated into a tactical watch section. Something just clicked when it came to tracking “contacts” as a contact manager in control. Essentially, a contact manager supervises and filters all of the information coming from sonar and fire control and makes real-time recommendations to the officer of the deck based on the current mission. It was a dynamic and challenging duty. The watch was part of a controlled chaos that I had recently grown so fond of as so many chops do. On many occasions, I found myself peering at an unsuspecting target through a periscope while making course recommendations. This was what I had signed up for! The junior line officers could come to me for help tracking down a part or for advice on how to read a “trace” on a sonar screen. Eventually, during 2014’s deployment, my ship’s weapons officer started calling me battlechop and it stuck for the rest of my tour…hopefully for life. To this day, I still remember how scary it was checking aboard my submarine in December 2012. I barely had a year in the Navy, my life experience was minimal, and, at times, I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Being chosen for submarine duty pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to grow into the confident naval officer that I am today. Call me battlechop and you will surely see my golden dolphins as I stand just that much taller these days because of my time on the Annapolis. May/June 2017