Lt. j.g. Ricardo Marquez ’16 is working on earning his dolphins, a major milestone in the life of a young Naval officer. Wearing this gold breast pin has been a singular goal for more than two years, but it’s really the culmination of an even longer stint of training to be a submarine officer. After earning a degree in electrical engineering
and completing the Navy’s famously intense Nuclear Power School, along with numerous other courses in safety and operations, Marquez will be fully trained and qualified as a submarine officer on the USS Nebraska, a ballistic missile submarine.
That’s been the goal since the day he graduated from Rice, which was incidentally the very same day he and a handful of Navy ROTC (NROTC) graduates were commissioned as officers in the U.S. Navy in a ceremony held at the Rice Memorial Chapel. “We had so many family members there,” Marquez recalled during a Face Time interview from his home on Puget Sound. By the following week, he was in San Diego “on TAD — temporary assigned duty. The military loves acronyms,” he said.
Marquez grew up in Brownsville, which he likes to describe as “350 miles south of Rice,” emphasizing the scale of Texas. As a top student, he considered going out of state for college. What sealed the deal, he said, was attending Rice’s Vision Weekend, making friends and getting to know the campus.
Unlike most of his fellow NROTC students, Marquez did not have a military career in mind when he moved into Baker College as a freshman. It was not until his sophomore year that he took a look at the campus NROTC program and decided to join. While friends complained about 10 a.m. classes, Marquez had to be at training by 5:30 a.m.
“That first semester was the hardest,” he recalled. At one point, he was taking 18 hours of classes, participating in NROTC, leading projects with Engineers Without Borders and training for a half marathon. Looking back, Marquez said, it was both too much and a good learning experience “in terms of managing my schedule and all.”
A fifth year on campus (courtesy of the NROTC) allowed him to complete his engineering capstone project as a member of team Five Guys and Ribeyes. In what was probably the tastiest project to come out of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen to date, the team developed a gradient meat thermometer.
Last April, Marquez experienced his first submarine deployment. These deployments can last up to three months. While there are work rotations built into the day, the mission is to be “on patrol 24/7,” Marquez said.
“We’re always training, always sharpening the saw; the goal is to be perfect.”
In fact, it’s this quality of constant learning that Marquez loves most about the service. But what about free time? When living in such close quarters, communication and hanging out with shipmates is important — especially playing cribbage, the unofficial game of submariners.
Being out of communication with friends and family — and the news — can be tough. A perfect example of this communication vacuum happened last summer when Marquez, a self-described “huge soccer fan” who has attended two World Cup tournaments, was deployed during most of the competition.
“To me, being a submariner is like being an astronaut and being on a spaceship.” Then there’s another way that life below the ocean compares to life above the Earth, and that’s in the sheer quotient of awe. There are occasions when the submarine surfaces far from land. “I remember being on the bridge and looking around and seeing the Pacific Ocean — there’s nothing around you. You can see how the Earth curves,” Marquez said. “Whenever they open the bridge hatch, there’s a gush of fresh air. Those are little things that you don’t get to experience anywhere else.” — L.G.