A native Santa Monican has made himself a living in the Navy. His craft, however, requires him to go that extra (nautical) mile.
Garrett Snyder, 37, is a Builder 1st Class in the Navy, which basically means that he, well, builds stuff. According to the Navy’s website, a builder is one of the more blue collar jobs in the military. A builder’s tasks can range from construction and operating bulldozers to preparing land surveys and assisting engineers.
Snyder, however, performs inspection, maintenance, repair and construction services of facilities for the Navy — underwater.
“It has its challenges,” Snyder said with a laugh in a phone call with the Daily Press. “Construction is difficult enough as it is and when you add an environment not made for humans … The job takes a lot of preparation and training, physical and mental preparedness.”
Six months of dive school was needed just to prep Snyder for the job. He says his class of divers started with over 30 people, with only half graduating.
“The attrition rate can be high for that job, especially during training,” he said. “It’s a tough process.”
Aquatic adaptability was never an issue for Snyder, whose job has taken him everywhere from Chicago to Florida to Italy and now his current home of Joint Expeditionary Base Little
Creek-Fort Story in Little Creek, Virginia.
His military journey, however, began here in sunny Santa Monica.
Snyder was born at St. John’s hospital in 1982 to his mother, a school teacher (who also ran local preschool The Little People’s Place) and his father, an attorney (who worked in Santa Monica, off Wilshire).
Military is dominant in Snyder’s family, his father a Vietnam draftee and Snyder’s grandfather a WWII vet. Even his sister is married to an officer in the Army.
“Ya know, I never really saw it that way but I can tell you it wasn’t on purpose,” Snyder said with a laugh.
After a memorable stint at Carlthorp elementary — Snyder says his love for math was born there, he set a mile and long jump record, and even shared an anecdote about meeting Goldie Hawn at his school — the Snyder’s moved to Castaic for a more rural setting for his parents.
The elder Snyder’s met in Kentucky, his father a post-war man looking for purpose (an eventual law degree), his mother attending college for a degree in teaching.
Snyder followed his parents’ beginnings in Kentucky, away from the concrete jungle and highways of LA.
“I wanted to get out there and see different things,” Snyder recalls. My parents met there and I tried to take after my dad. It was always in his DNA to explore people and perspectives, see things from everyone’s point.”
Following his love of math led Snyder to major in civil engineering. However, not even the ability to solve complex equations could solve Snyder’s lax attitude towards schooling.
“I wasn’t performing very well in college, I was too immature to be out there on my own at that point,” Snyder said. “My grades fell and I just started working odd jobs around town. I hated it. Then I drove by a Navy recruiter’s office one day and it changed my life.”
Snyder said he joined due to being inspired by his grandfather and father’s service, despite his father’s reservations.
His father was a draftee, still dealing with his experiences in Vietnam. Snyder says his dad was “wishy-washy” but trusted his son’s judgment. His mother begged him not to go for fear “of getting blown up immediately.”
His father was airborne infantry in Vietnam and his grandfather was an equipment operator in WWII, both occupations which bred harrowing memories.
Luckily for Snyder, his first duty station was far from anything getting blown up. He was stationed in a now-defunct base, an island off the mainland of Italy.
Snyder stuck with construction like his grandfather, the underwater version of his job leading him to such experiences as salvage diving in Panama City and maintaining and building Navy facilities across the world.
Of all the travel and experiences he’s had in the Navy, Snyder says his favorite part of over 10 years in the Navy has been the people.
Before Snyder attended dive school, Snyder’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer. The same day Snyder received the news, his fellow dive school trainees collected donations for Snyder to get home and see his dad and be there for him after surgery.
“They sent flowers and everything,” Snyder said, choking up a bit as he recalled.
His father went through surgery and recovery, eventually making it to dive school graduation to put a pin on his son and congratulate him. “It was meaningful, to say the least,” Snyder said.
6 weeks before Snyder was set to deploy, his father went into remission and fell into a coma. Family informed Snyder that after many months, they would soon pull his father from life support.
Some sailors picked up donations for Snyder, unbeknownst to him, sending him an envelope of cash for a hotel, food, whatever he needed so that Snyder could be there for his father and his family.
“I can’t think of any other place that would be that quick and proactive to take care of their own. I still get choked up thinking about it. People take care of you and you try to pay that blessing forward… I’ll be hard pressed to find something better.”