Arnie Sisk

U.S. Navy Vet­eran – Va­len­cia Res­i­dent

The Signal - - Veterans - By Perry Smith Sig­nal Manag­ing Ed­i­tor

From liv­ing through real-life sub­ma­rine-chas­ing mis­sions sim­i­lar to “The Hunt for Red Oc­to­ber,” to pre­par­ing equip­ment for a trip around Saturn, Arnie Sisk’s Navy ser­vice has led him to op­por­tu­ni­ties around the world.

He gained once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ties to see the world, make life­long friend­ships and per­haps most crit­i­cally, gain a greater un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of life, he said, by work­ing with some amaz­ing peo­ple and learn­ing about all of what goes into pro­tect­ing and pre­serv­ing the val­ues and cul­ture of free­dom so im­por­tant to Amer­i­cans.

“(I learned about) the sig­nif­i­cance of mil­i­tary ser­vice, and they’re just some re­ally amaz­ing peo­ple that you work with and serve with in the mil­i­tary,” Sisk said. “You just think about how im­por­tant it is for all the dif­fer­ent pieces in the mil­i­tary to do what they do, all the dif­fer­ent mis­sions.”

Look­ing back, Sisk had the op­por­tu­nity to take a com­pletely dif­fer­ent route al­to­gether, and was faced with an im­por­tant choice af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school.

“I was in high school and I had ap­plied to the Naval Academy,” he said, “and my sis­ter had a boyfriend in the Navy, and it sounded in­ter­est­ing.”

Ma­jor de­ci­sion

Sisk ap­plied to the U.S. Naval Academy as a high school stu­dent, but dur­ing his se­nior year of high school in 1964, he had to de­cide be­tween two sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties — a Re­gent’s Schol­ar­ship to UCLA to study en­gi­neer­ing, or ac­cept­ing ad­mis­sion to the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I de­cided to go to the Naval Academy, be­cause I would have been an ex­cel­lent en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent (at UCLA), but I wanted more than that. I wanted the ‘whole man’ con­cept,” he said, re­fer­ring to the val­ues and cul­ture of the Navy.

“In the Naval Academy it was lit­er­ally duty, honor and coun­try,” Sisk re­called, adding he also forged life­long friend­ships, some of which he re­cently re­vis­ited at a 50-year re­union of his grad­u­at­ing class.

Ed­u­ca­tion in the com­puter age

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the U.S. Naval Academy in An­napo­lis, where Sisk ex­celled as a stu­dent, his stud­ies earned him an­other op­por­tu­nity. “I ap­plied for the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion fel­low­ship and I got my mas­ter’s de­gree at Stan­ford in com­puter science in 1969.”

Sisk was on the Palo Alto cam­pus dur­ing a pretty his­toric era — it was not only the very be­gin­nings of com­puter science as a ma­jor, but also the na­tion was rife with protest over mil­i­tary ac­tion. Sisk re­calls be­ing more con­cerned with learn­ing assem­bly lan­guage for com­put­ers, work­ing with punch cards and ter­mi­nals on the new ma­chine’s pro­cess­ing lan­guage.

Life un­der the sea

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Stan­ford, Sisk ap­plied for the nu­clear sub­ma­rine pro­gram and was ac­cepted by Ad­mi­ral Hy­man Rick­over, who’s con­sid­ered by many as “fa­ther of the nu­clear Navy,” in ad­di­tion to be­ing “the long­est-serv­ing naval of­fi­cer and the longest­serv­ing mem­ber of the U.S armed forces in his­tory,” ac­cord­ing to the Atomic Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

“He in­ter­viewed every of­fi­cer him­self per­son­ally,” Sisk re­called. “He was a very dif­fi­cult man who did a won­der­ful job of keep­ing us safe. He was very, very fo­cused on nu­clear safety, and be­cause of that, we had an in­cred­i­bly good safety record.”

Sisk joined the crew in 1970 as a lieu­tenant, ju­nior grade, and was as­signed to the

USS Guard­fish.

The Guard­fish (SSN-612) was over­hauled in Pascagoula, Mis­sis­sippi, at the start of

Sisk’s as­sign­ment, and then shipped off to the Panama Canal and even­tu­ally, Pearl Har­bor, where the ship was home-ported.

“I was in the en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ment as a nu­clear en­gi­neer, and I was a watch of­fi­cer on the nu­clear propul­sion plant,” Sisk said, de­scrib­ing oper­a­tions as mak­ing the rounds, and check­ing on “a lot of ma­chin­ery.”

“It was com­fort­able, be­cause we had air con­di­tion­ing for the elec­tron­ics,” Sisk said. “It was a good liv­ing space.”

The mis­sion was fo­cused around in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing, and at one point, now de­clas­si­fied doc­u­ments share the story of when the crew was off the coast of Vladi­vos­tok, while it tracked a Rus­sian nu­clear sub­ma­rine into the South China Sea.

“He never knew we were there,” Sisk said. “(Their ships) are too noisy.”

The two sides ob­vi­ously never en­gaged, Sisk said, not­ing a ma­jor part of the strat­egy was as a de­ter­rence — the idea of “mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion,” that if ei­ther side en­gaged, it would be an­ni­hi­la­tion for both, ef­fec­tively dis­suaded com­bat.

“This was an at­tack sub­ma­rine, we were in­tel­li­gence­gath­er­ing,” Sisk said. “It was a cold war. It was a cat-and­mouse game.”

The ship car­ried 16 Po­laris Po­sei­don mis­siles with ther­monu­clear war­heads.

“And we went on pa­trol 60 days and then a re­fit pe­riod for 30 days (in Guam),” he said, “No­body knew, in­clud­ing us, where we were in this huge ocean.”

To in­fin­ity and be­yond

Af­ter about 10 years of ser­vice, Sisk fin­ished his com­mit­ment and then de­cided to re­sign, briefly tak­ing a job in man­u­fac­tur­ing be­fore find­ing a ca­reer at the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory.

Sisk worked on Galileo and Cassini space­craft, which stud­ied Jupiter and Saturn, re­spec­tively, in the in­te­gra­tion and test­ing phases.

“In­te­gra­tion and test­ing, mean­ing you built the space­craft at the sys­tem level, you take the frame, and you put all the dif­fer­ent sub­sys­tems on there, and then you see how they ‘play’ to­gether,” he said. “You put them all to­gether and you test them ex­tremely rig­or­ously.”

It was also around this time that he met his wife, Candi, dur­ing a raft­ing trip, and the two were mar­ried in 1983. Candi worked for Elek­tra Records, where she gar­nered an al­bum credit on The Ea­gles’ sem­i­nal “Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia” for her work with the la­bel.

Sisk re­calls how their very dif­fer­ent ca­reer paths made for some great mem­o­ries, in­clud­ing when she took him to a Mot­ley Crue show that saw famed drum­mer Tommy Lee play­ing his in­stru­ment in a ro­tat­ing cage above the stage.

“She took this ex­tremely not-with-the-scene JPL en­gi­neer to a Mot­ley Crue con­cert at the (Great Western) Fo­rum,” he said with a laugh. “We both took earplugs and it was still too loud.”

Sisk spent nearly 20 years at JPL, de­cid­ing to re­tire in 1997, and at age 51, he took the op­por­tu­nity to travel with his wife.

“I lost my wife in 2010,” Arnie said, adding that he was very grate­ful the two were able to spend that time trav­el­ing to­gether be­fore she died of can­cer.

Con­tin­u­ing the themes of science and ser­vice, one of Sisk’s pre­ferred roles now is that of tu­tor, as he vol­un­teers to help out at the Math­e­mat­ics, En­gi­neer­ing and Science Achieve­ment, or MESA Cen­ter, on cam­pus at Col­lege of the Canyons.

“I love work­ing with these stu­dents and I love mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” said Sisk. I live a blessed life; I’ve just had a re­ally good life. And if you don’t give back, what’s it all about?”

Mid­dle: Arnie in his first year of high school.Above: Arnie on his grad­u­a­tion day from high school.

Cour­tesy pho­tos

Above: Candi and Arnie on their wed­ding day. Above, right: Candi and Arnie in 2008.

Austin Dave/The Sig­nal

Arnie Sisk wears his Navy vet­eran hat.

Cour­tesy pho­tos

Above: Arnie shakes hands with his high school physics teacher in Ja­nu­ray 1964.Above, right: Arnie sits in front of his su­per­mar­ket job in 1964.

Cour­tesy pho­tos

Far Left: Arnie Sisk at 1 year old.

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