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East Lyme boy knew submarines were his destiny

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: The Day

Published December 27. 2012 4:00AM
Tim Martin/The Day
Michael Hartzell, center, as a senior at East Lyme High School in 2002, joking with friends during graduation rehearsal.
As predicted, Mike Hartzell followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps into the Silent Service

Editor's note: Those who graduated high school in 2002 were the first to enter the post-9/11 world. Their adult lives have been shaped by two wars, a shortage of jobs and the Great Recession. The Day asked nine of the seniors profiled in 2002 about how their lives now reflect their dreams and ambitions then.

The last 10 years have been smooth sailing for Mike Hartzell.

A 2002 East Lyme High School graduate, Hartzell - now U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Hartzell - has followed the path he predicted as an 18-year-old high school senior. In a phone interview this month, Hartzell recalled a time even before then when he correctly predicted the beginnings of his adult life.

"In second grade, they made us fill out a green sheet saying what we wanted to do when we were older, and I said I want to be on submarines and go to Penn State, and I did, I don't know why," Hartzell said. "My dad and grandfather were both on submarines, but they never pushed me to do it, but I ended up liking it a lot and really enjoy it."

Now a 28-year-old, married father of a 15-month old, Hartzell lives in Monterey, Calif., with his wife, Amanda Hartzell and their son, Tyler. He's 3,000 miles and 10 years from when he told a Day reporter in the East Lyme High School cafeteria that "the Navy would get me pointed in the right direction."

"It's a job straight out of college and I'll get to travel a lot," Hartzell said then.

Boy, did he ever. Just like he said he would, Hartzell went to Penn State in the fall of 2002 on an ROTC scholarship.

"Neither of my parents went to college, and they weren't big Penn State fans," he said. "I don't know what drew me, I just always wanted to go. I didn't even go to campus when I was accepted, just got the ROTC scholarship and accepted, sight unseen. It was a very great four years of my life there. It turned out to be the perfect place to go to school, really."

Hartzell met the woman he would marry during their freshman year, though he says the two were just friends until they began dating senior year. The couple married on July 4, 2009, after Hartzell finished his first full, six-month deployment aboard the USS Alexandria, with port calls in France, Greece, Turkey, Bahrain and Dubai.

Before that, Hartzell traveled up and down the United States' East Coast, attending nuclear power school in Charleston, S.C., and training in Groton and with his first sub, the USS Augusta, in Norfolk, Va.

"It was tough on my now-wife, just getting thrown into the Navy lifestyle," Hartzell said.

He had plenty of experience in the life himself: His father, Steve Hartzell, retired from the Navy in 2010 after more than 30 years in the service. And his maternal grandfather, Joe Pow, served 32 years in the Navy.

"Just because his father and grandfather were in the Navy didn't mean that he had to choose it too," Mike's mother Laura Hartzell said in 2002. "Mike likes things organized. He likes to know what he's doing and where he's going. He knew he had to go to college, and he has to have a career. This way he has taken care of both."

Soon, Hartzell will have completed his master's degree in engineering acoustics from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He probably will be assigned to a new submarine, possibly based in a new place, with a master's degree in hand, and likely will head out on another deployment. Eventually, the family will be assigned to a Naval base.

"She would want Pearl Harbor, but we'll see," Hartzell said of his wife's hope for a tropical posting in Hawaii. "It's one step at a time, careerwise. My next tour is what I'm focused on doing well at next."

As for the next 10 years, Hartzell again knows what he wants: to become captain of a submarine.

"That would be the next step in the progression of my career," he said. "I've done well enough in my junior officer tour, but it depends on other tours to be in contention for the position. I wouldn't have stayed in if I didn't think I could maybe have a chance. I would say, so far, so good. I've liked the Navy a lot."

For now, Hartzell will continue to enjoy his family and the southern California weather, which allows him plenty of days to play golf. Hartzell's a recreational runner, too, having recently completed a "Tough Mudder" obstacle course race.

"The worst part is getting electrocuted. It's miserable," Hartzell said, laughing as he recounted the notoriously difficult race.

Hartzell said he had nearly forgotten about his long-ago senior profile in The Day.

"I've been pretty lucky with how it's all worked out well," he said. "Hopefully, I have the same sort of luck in the next 10 years."

Hartzell was more than happy to give some words of advice to other 18-year-olds preparing to join the adult world. It sounds cliché, he said, but it's true: "Trust your dreams. If you believe you want to do something, the only person who will stop you is yourself.

"Just go with it; follow your dreams."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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