From Silent Service to Sacred Service
As told by Andrew Hogg
“If we ever have to launch our nuclear warheads,” said the commanding officer of our submarine, “we have failed in our mission.” This prompted lively discussions on the ethics of nuclear warfare. How, though, did I come to be in the submarine service, also called the silent service because of our efforts to remain undetected?
I WAS born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., in 1944. As I grew up, I was influenced by my father, grandfather, and uncle, who had all served in the armed forces, viewing this as the highest human endeavor. As a boy, I toured the nearby navy yard and saw my first submarine. From that moment on, the submarine service was my goal. During my senior year in high school, I was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. I graduated four years later, in June 1966.
I entered the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program for training in nuclear engineering and submarine operations. Then, in April 1967, I married Mary Lee Carter, my dear wife to this day. Finally, in March 1968, I realized my boyhood dreams when I was assigned to my first ship, the submarine USS Jack. About a year later, Mary Lee gave birth to the first of our two children—our daughter, Allison.
In 1971, I was made Engineer Officer of the USS Andrew Jackson, whose captain made the statement mentioned at the outset. While at sea in this Polaris missile submarine, we experienced an emergency that is the dread of all submariners—fire. A little after midnight, while I was relaxing with some fellow officers, we felt a thump. Then came the gong, gong, gong of the general alarm and the words, “Fire in machinery room one!”
Because I was responsible for nearly all mechanical and electrical systems, I raced aft to survey the damage. A flash fire had occurred in one of the ship’s oxygen generators, which help to produce breathable air. Four of us quickly donned air-breathing masks and purged any flammable gases from the area. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Despite the mishap, we were able to stay on our assigned patrol—a testimony to the good training of the crew.
I Chose to Read About a Peacemaker
To help us cope with the stresses of work, we were encouraged to spend a few hours each week looking into something cultural. I usually read the biographies of noteworthy military men. This time, however, I decided to read about someone well-known as a peacemaker—Jesus Christ. Using the Bible I had received at my graduation from the naval academy, I launched into the Gospels. But my reading raised more questions than it answered. I needed help.
Near the end of our patrol, our commanding officer convened a meeting of the officers in the wardroom and announced: “Gentlemen, our engineer has just been assigned to the best job in the United States Navy. He will be the Engineer Officer on the first ship of the navy’s newest class of attack submarine.” I was stunned!
The USS “Los Angeles”
My new assignment took my family to Newport News, Virginia, where the USS Los Angeles was under construction. My work involved overseeing the testing of engineering systems and developing technical manuals and training programs. The work was extremely complex but satisfying. Meanwhile, Mary Lee gave birth to our son, Drew. Now I was the father of two, and my thoughts once again turned to God: ‘What does he think about war? What happens when you die? Is there a hell?’
Answers at Last!
At about that time, my wife began having discussions with two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day when I phoned home from the shipyard, Mary Lee said, “Two ‘Bible ladies’ are here.”
“What church are they from?” I asked.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she replied.
I had no idea who the Witnesses were, but I wanted to understand the Bible. “Invite them to come over one evening,” I said. Shortly thereafter, one of them returned with her husband, and my wife and I began to study the Bible.
Finally, I began to get answers to the questions that had puzzled me for years. For example, I learned that the dead are “conscious of nothing at all,” as if in a deep sleep—a comparison Jesus used. (Ecclesiastes 9:5; John 11:11-14) The dead, therefore, are experiencing neither bliss nor torment but are “sleeping” in death, awaiting a resurrection.
Mary Lee and I also began to attend Christian meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. There we saw Witnesses—from different cultural, educational, and ethnic backgrounds—all serving God in peace and unity. “The Bible really can improve people’s lives,” my wife and I concluded.—Psalm 19:7-10.
A Time of Decision
When the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 broke out, U.S. Atlantic Fleet submarines were deployed. Things could easily have escalated, and it really began to dawn on me that only God’s Kingdom, not human politics, will bring true and lasting peace. In fact, I had often prayed “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth,” but I did not know what that meant. (Matthew 6:9, 10, King James Version) Now, though, I understood that God’s Kingdom is a heavenly government that will soon rule over the entire earth, cleansing it of all evil and evildoers.—Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14.
A passage of Scripture that particularly concerned me was 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4. True Christians, it states, “do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God.” Those “weapons,” I learned, are of a spiritual nature, and they include “the sword of the spirit”—the Holy Bible.—Ephesians 6:17.
I was now at a fork in the road. Would I continue in my present career, which I had found to be both challenging and enjoyable, or would I harmonize my life with Bible truth? After giving the matter much prayerful thought, I concluded that if I was truly sincere about being a peacemaker, I should do it God’s way.
My New “Commander in Chief”
We resolved to serve the ultimate “Commander in Chief”
Mary Lee and I prayerfully discussed our future and resolved that we would serve the ultimate “Commander in Chief”—Jehovah God. We each decided to dedicate our life to Jehovah, and I submitted my resignation from the navy. I was then transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, to await my discharge. Most of my fellow officers were puzzled by my decision, and some were antagonistic. But others were genuinely interested in my Biblical stand and accorded me respect.
I received my discharge in 1974. That same year my wife and I symbolized our dedication to God by water baptism at the “Divine Purpose” District Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hampton, Virginia. (Matthew 28:19, 20) Our new life had begun.
Facing New Challenges
Mary Lee and I had two small children, no income, and only enough money to last a couple of months. I sent my résumé to a number of employers and left matters in God’s hands. Before long, a utility company offered me work. The pay was about half my navy pay, but the job allowed our family to stay in the area.
As my wife and I made spiritual progress, we wanted to do more in Jehovah’s service. A Witness family we knew had moved to central Virginia to serve where the need for Bible teachers was greater, and they invited us to visit them. One visit was all it took, and we started making plans to move. I put in a request for a transfer, and to my delight, it was accepted. In fact, it came with a promotion! And the utility company agreed to cover our moving expenses. ‘Yes,’ we thought, ‘God truly does care for those who strive to do his will.’—Matthew 6:33.
With Mary Lee today
Because our family has maintained a relatively simple lifestyle, Mary Lee and I have been able to serve in the full-time ministry. This, in turn, allowed us to spend a lot of time with our two fine children while they were growing up. Indeed, the results have brought us immeasurable joy, for both Allison and Drew continue “walking in the truth.”—3 John 4; Proverbs 23:24.
Yes, there have been times when finances, housing, health, and just growing older have made us anxious. But Jehovah has always stood by us. Do I regret having left the “silent service”? Not at all! As Mary Lee and I reflect on our lives, we can say without a hint of doubt that serving Jehovah is, without question, the most noble and rewarding human endeavor.—Ecclesiastes 12:13.