A 2010 Suitland High School graduate and Forestville, Md., native is serving aboard a U.S. Navy attack submarine, the USS Columbia (SSN 771).

Petty Officer 3rd Class Rhett M. Smith is a culinary specialist aboard the Hawaii-based boat, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, and was specifically named in honor of Columbia, S. C., Columbia, Mo., and Columbia, Ill. Measuring 361 feet long, 33 feet wide, weighing 7,000 tons when submerged and with a complement of more than 130 sailors, USS Columbia is one of the most versatile weapons platforms ever placed in the world’s oceans, capable of long range Tomahawk strike operations, anti-submarine and surface shipping operations, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and special forces insertions.

Attack submarines are designed to pursue and attack enemy submarines and surface ships using torpedoes. They also carry cruise missiles with conventional high-explosive warheads to attack enemy shore facilities. They also conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, mine laying and support special operations.

As a 21 year-old with numerous responsibilities, Smith said he is learning about himself as a leader, sailor and a person. He added that joining the Navy was something he really felt God wanted him to do. “I was in college and struggling to pay for school. I tried getting grants and I wasn’t able to get any financial aid,” said Smith. “I was really stressed about what to do and one morning I woke up feeling like God was telling me to join the Navy.”

Smith said after lots of prayer he entered the Navy but had no idea the “blessing” it would be not just in his life but in the lives of others.

“People back home tell me all of the time how proud they are of me and how much I have positively impacted their lives and helped them choose a better path in life because of my choices to be in the military,” said Smith. “I have helped a lot of people that I have met along the way as well and I see that the people I have managed to help is why God wanted me here and It is a really great feeling to have a better life but it is even better to know I have helped others lives.”

Columbia, 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.

Although it is difficult for most people to imagine living on a submarine, challenging submarine living conditions actually build strong fellowship among the crew. The crews are highly motivated, and quickly adapt to changing conditions. It is a busy life of specialized work, watches, and drills.

Smith said he is very proud of the work he is doing as part of the Columbia’s 130-member crew, protecting America on the world’s oceans. Imagine working and living in a 361-foot long, 33-foot wide, three-story building with no windows and surrounded by technology. Then lock the doors, submerge beneath the surface of the ocean and travel silently underwater for months. This requires a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge, personal discipline, and teamwork.

“I’m very proud of all USS Columbia sailors and equally impressed with the type and quality of work that goes aboard the submarine each day,” said Cmdr. J. Patrick Friedman, Columbia’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.”

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied upon assets, Smith and other USS Columbia sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes.