BREMERTON — The next submarine in Kitsap's fleet won't be patrolling the Puget Sound, but it will cook you a hamburger.
A submarine-shaped grill — dubbed the USS Olympic — built by welding students at Olympic College is the first in a fleet of high-powered barbecue machines that will help feed veterans in Kitsap.
The project was spearheaded by Louis Robledo, a Navy veteran and welding student who wanted to raise more money for the local Student Veterans of America chapter.
"I figured, hey, why not build barbecue grills?" Robledo said.
Local veterans groups pitched in to help fund the project. The USS Olympic will be donated to OC's veterans center, but Robledo and company have four additional barbecues in the works.
A team of students from multiple disciplines came together to build the cooker. Robledo pulled the idea from a Facebook post and turned his hasty scribbles over to fellow welding students Alex Pierce and Scott Vance, who drew up a set of official blueprints.
Getting the design on paper was the easy part.
"Logistically, it was a nightmare," Robledo laughed.
To keep expenses down, students used old propane tanks for the subs' fuselage. The tanks had to be drained, cut open, scrubbed and blasted with sand before they could be worked on by students.
The team added a realistic smoke stack and propeller built by Bremerton-based SAFE Boats to complete the look. Robledo hopes to have the first two grills completely finished next week.
"(OC's veteran center) does a lot of grilling, for student events we're usually the one manning the grill," said Deena Vanderhye, a Navy veteran and psychology student who worked on the project.
"What better way than to do a grill that looks like a submarine?"
But for Robledo, the project was also a way to give back. In April 2015, Robledo — who served a tour about the fast combat support ship USS Sacremento in the Persian Gulf in the late 1990s — was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma.
After surgery that removed a golf-ball sized tumor from his neck, Robledo was homebound for six months while he underwent chemotherapy. During that time, he said, students and staff from the veterans center called him every day to check in.
"They were my support, they were my only friends," he said. "That made me more determined to get this done."
OC's veteran center helps active duty and transitioning veterans with things like navigating Veteran's Affairs services, registering for classes and applying for tuition assistance. It's a catch-all community space for veterans, said Jerimiah Meyer, director of military education and veteran services for the college.
The center and the Olympic College Foundation are working to set up a benefit to auction off the four, as of yet unnamed submarine grills. The proceeds would benefit the veterans center, the local SVAC chapter and OC's student government.
"The fact that they got some project they're seeing through to the end, that's the best thing," Meyer said.
Robledo, who graduates this month, wishes he could build a grill for everyone who helped support the project. While he won't be able to physically build barbecues, the veterans center is hoping to set up guidelines for other college veteran programs to build their own.
"This is just my parting gift," Robledo said.
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved