Aug 13, 2023

Faith Wendelken shares her time in the Navy, surprised grandmother

Faith Wendelken was a sonar technician who spent seven years in the Navy. (Submitted photo)

When Faith Wendelken graduated from high school, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.

Before considering college and beyond, she had given some thought to joining the Navy. In July of 2016, a month after graduating high school, Wendelken was suited and booted for the Navy and spent the next seven years as a sonar technician stationed out of Virginia with a 10-month deployment to Europe and the Middle East.

When Wendelken joined the Navy, her initial plan was to become a nurse, but nursing in the Navy is a highly competitive field with sporadic job openings, she said. When Wendelken took her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), she scored “pretty high,” she said, which opened up a wide range of jobs of her choosing. She settled on becoming a sonar technician.

“I just thought looking at sound underwater and trying to find submarines sounded cool,” Wendelken said, who completed her training in San Diego, Calif., and transferred to Norfolk, Va., where she was deployed and spent the majority of her time overseas in the Indian Ocean near Muscat, Oman.

As a Sonar Technician, Wendelken tracked submarines and provided maintenance on the sonar equipment. Most of her time was spent working on the mechanism that shot torpedoes.

“For submarines, sonar techs are the eyes for the ship,” she said.

While in the Navy, Wendelken was injured and was unable to continue with her employment as a sonar tech. When her contract with the Navy ended, Wendelken enrolled at North Seattle College on a military scholarship to obtain a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in international accounting.

Before school started, however, she made sure to take advantage of having both feet back on solid ground and planned a little road trip.

Country roads

“This road trip across the states is super important to me because in the Navy, you’ve gotta go through all these permissions to go see places and visit family,” Wendelken said. “So, I was like, ‘I’m going to take a road trip and see some of my family and just do what I want to do, get some freedom.’”

Joined by a friend, Wendelken’s road trip took her from Virginia to the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee. They then traveled to San Antonio, Texas, and Roswell, N.M. (“Because, you know, alien stuff”), on to El Paso, Tombstone, Tucson and then Fountain Hills to surprise her grandmother, Debora M. Sanchez, who was so overjoyed to see her granddaughter that she took her on a personal tour around town.

“I took her to the bank, I took her to Safeway, I took her to all the stores,” Sanchez said excitedly. “I love her very much.”

When asked what it meant to have her granddaughter surprise her out of the blue, Sanchez replied, “You cry, that’s what you do.”

At a young age, Fountain Hills was a second home for Wendelken, who often came to visit her grandparents. Her father, Christopher “Woody” Wendelken, also lived in Fountain Hills before he passed away in 2015.

On the last leg of her road trip to Selah, Wash., Wendelken stopped at the Grand Canyon to take in the spectacle of nature. She took time to reflect on all the things that she learned in the military, the most prominent being growing through pain and hardship.

“The Navy really throws a lot of experiences at you and a lot of challenges and I feel I always stepped up to bat at all the challenges they gave,” she said, recalling her time sweeping the ship deck during the pouring rain or experiencing four hours of watch and four hours of sleep for months at a time. “If I can go four-on-four-off, I can do anything.”

Despite only being 25, Faith said she feels like she’s already lived a lifetime. Heading back into the classroom seven years later, Wendelken has a newfound confidence to take on anything the world throws her way.

As a girl from a small town, she wants to offer hope to young people searching for something more in their lives.

“If you want it, go get it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid and limit yourself from doing the things that you want just because it’s a big world and it’s scary.”

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