Junior: The Young Sailor That Found His Second Family On Board USS Momsen

For Michael Benitez, the sea runs in his blood. He was born into  a long line of Sailors, and always knew he would follow in their footsteps. In this latest episode of Faces of the Fleet, we tell the story of a young Boatswain’s Mate who found purpose and belonging with his new brothers and sisters aboard the USS Momsen.

Boatswain’s Mate – Rooted In History

The Boatswain’s Mate (BM) rating is one of the two oldest in the Navy and dates back to 1794. Boatswain’s Mates are essential in maintaining the ship’s integrity. They train, direct and supervise personnel in the ship’s maintenance, including all activities relating to marlinspike, the deck, the painting and upkeeping of the ship’s external structures. Boatswain’s Mates also operate and maintain equipment which may be used in a variety of areas aboard a ship, including loading and unloading cargo, ammunition, fuel and food supplies.

This determined group of individuals proudly tattoo their symbol on their bodies, mark it on their ships and share an unbreakable brotherhood. The pride of the Boatswain’s Mate rating, coupled with his family’s personal connection to the rate, was enough to entice Michael Benitez.

Michael joined the Navy at 17 years old, graduating high school and heading for the high seas. Unlike many Sailors, Benitez expressed little hesitancy when joining the Navy and faced no resistance from his family. In fact, his cousins, uncles, father and both grandfathers all served in the Navy expected him to continue their legacy.

A Young Sailor Begins His Journey

Michael was a happy child, growing up in a household with loving parents. Intent on raising Michael into a respectable young man who knew the value of hard work and commitment, Michael’s father was hard on him. Though he did not understand his father’s parenting at the time, Michael looks back on those formative years with a smile.

“Having a father that served in the Navy was life-changing. From an early age, he and my mother instilled the values of hard work in me and my brother. It prepared us for the outside world,” Michael remarks.
Surrounded by the military memorabilia of both his father and brother, Michael felt drawn to the Navy. In fact, a photo of baby Michael dressed in a Sailor’s uniform hangs prominently in the Benitez house. If there was anyone who was destined for a career in the Navy, it was Michael. Instead of wondering if Michael would join the Navy, his family was more concerned with which job he would choose.

Though eager to join, Michael could not talk with recruiters until he was 17. When his 17th birthday came, he excitedly jumped on the phone with his recruiter to understand what career options awaited him. The second part of his life was about to begin.

“I’d been waiting for that moment my whole life. As soon as that day came where I could speak to my Navy recruiter, I knew that my comfortable life as I knew it was about to change. Little did I know the second family that was to await me.”

“It’s Going To Be A Dirty, Dirty Job!”

After taking the ASVAB, Michael was left with a few choices. Among his options was Boatswain’s Mate. Having read the job description he was more than interested. He was drawn to it. The same could not be said for his father. Michael’s father was not initially happy with his son’s decision to be a Boatswain’s Mate.

“It’s going to be a dirty, dirty job, Michael. You’re going to hate it!” Michael Sr. told his son, unaware that several months later he would have to apologize to Michael and admit that his pre-judgement was incorrect.

Undeterred by his father’s initial reaction, Michael stuck to his guns and became a Boatswain’s Mate. A few months after joining , a conversation with his family revealed that both of his grandfathers and his great-grandfather served as Boatswain’s Mates — the role was in his blood.

With legacy on one shoulder and ambition on the other, Michael showed up to his first ship assignment with purpose–this was what he was supposed to do. Michael met with his new shipmates, a group of people that would become his second family while miles away from home. The other Boatswain’s Mates were skeptical of Michael at first due to his young age. They were unsure of his maturity and his ability. But rather than shy away from the judgements of his peers, Michael took up the challenge of gaining their trust. He tackled tasks with an ease and a positivity that made it clear to his fellow Sailors he was meant to be a Boatswain’s Mate. Soon, they welcomed him with open arms.

Even more fulfilling to Michael was his father’s realization that the rate of Boatswain’s Mate was not what he had initially thought. Seeing his son stand tall alongside other Boatswain’s Mates was one of the most proud moments of his life. Michael Sr. now looks back on his initial reaction and chuckles. He’s quickly realized it was the best decision his son ever made.

A Second Family

A year and a half after joining, Michael has discovered a second family aboard the USS Momsen, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer stationed in Everett, Washington. Along with the other Boatswain’s Mates, Michael diligently performs his duties to perfection and enjoys his post-work time watching movies and playing video games with his friends. Though he misses his family dearly, the family he has built on the ship makes him feel like he’s home.

On any given day, Michael can be found maintaining the ship: painting, cleaning, rigging, and performing general upkeep. Though pulling lines and chipping paint may seem dull to some, knowing that his ship looks perfect and that it operates smoothly is deeply satisfying to Michael. While taking care of the ship ensures that it will sail, that isn’t the only reason the Boatswain’s Mates work their hardest to keep their ships pristine.

The ship is the first thing people see when Sailors pull in to port, and it represents every Sailor on board, the Sailors who came before them and the Sailors of the future. The Boatswain’s Mates give their full effort to make sure their ship is worthy of awe and praise, as beautiful as it is powerful. To maintain the ship’s image is to maintain the pride of the Sailors who serve aboard it. Michael carries this philosophy everywhere he goes.

“You’re preserving that history. You’re preserving that person’s name that’s on there, whether that’s a president or someone specific to the Navy.”

At The Helm

One of Michael’s favorite parts of being a Boatswain’s Mate, is driving the ship. He has dreamt of it since he was a child – wanting the chance to stand at the helm and steer the ship through the sea. It wasn’t until Michael shouldered this responsibility that he began to truly appreciate the difference he is making for his fellow Sailors and his country. The Navy has helped Michael to mature; it’s allowed him to stand as an equal with his father and grandfather, the men he admires the most in life.

Never did Michael think he’d be on a destroyer steering it into the waves. Never did he think within one year of being in the Navy he would develop lasting relationships, take up major responsibilities and walk with such immense pride.

“There’s a lot of pretty cool things I get to do on the ship, but getting to drive the ship beats everything. I’m 18 years old and I’m living the dream. Never did I think I would be given such a huge weight of responsibility at this age. I didn’t have my driver’s license and they gave me the keys to this warship. It’s awesome,” Michael says with a proud smile.

Though he finds pride and fulfilment in his job, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Michael is only 18. On top of dealing with the standard problems of an 18 year old – relationships, finding his identity, learning to manage what life throws at him – Michael also misses his family. Leaving them was one of the hardest things he has ever done, but he does not regret it. Being on the ship, surrounded by his fellow Boatswain’s Mates, he is constantly reminded of the importance of his role and how his time in the Navy is helping him grow.

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