YOKOSUKA, Japan –
Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, announced the 2022 7th Fleet Sea and Shore Sailors of the Year (SOY) during a ceremony held at the at Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka’ (CFAY) Chief Petty Officer Club, April 7.
The SOY week began with a commencement ceremony including remarks from 7th Fleet’s commander, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, and 7thFleet Command Master Chief Jason Haka.
“This week we celebrate you, the senior Sailors who have come from across the Fleet and represent the very best of what I consider the most dynamic, challenging numbered Fleet in the Navy,” said Thomas. “Your achievements represent not only what you’ve contributed to your command and the Navy, but also the contributions and sacrifices of your families, and your support to communities that help enable our important mission of defending our Nation and our allies.”
Command Master Chief Jason Haka said the candidates stood out among their peers because of their hard-charging commitment to the Navy and the leadership they demonstrate within their commands.
“In the U.S. Navy our most important asset is our people. Without our Sailors our planes wouldn’t fly and our ships wouldn’t sail,” said Haka. “The Sailors we are honoring this week have strived to push themselves further and harder, to be the very best they can be and set a fantastic example for their junior Sailors to follow.”
The candidates spent the week learning about the naval history and local heritage of the area. In addition to that, they toured both the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) forward-deployed at CFAY and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ship JS Asuka (ASE-6102) homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.
The Master Chief Petty Officer of JMSDF Kazuhito Azuma praised the candidate’s hard work and effort and stated that, although they are not from Japan, they are still part of the JMSDF navy family.
“Congratulations to everyone who was selected! I salute you all for your great work and efforts. We are from different countries and speak different languages, but we are all navy. Let us continue to have a good relationship and cooperate with each other,” said Azuma in a letter to the nominees.
This year there were three Sea SOY candidates and four Shore SOY candidates.
- Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 1st Class Mark Lewis, from King George, Virginia, assigned to Commander U.S. 7th Fleet
- Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 1st Class Brandon Blanding, from Queens, New York, assigned to Commander Task Force 70
- Legalman 1st Class Alicia House, from Nesbit Mississippi, assigned to Commander Task Force 76
- Musician 1st Class Brian Kloppenburg, from Florissant, Missouri, assigned to U.S. 7th Fleet Band
- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Matelita Bolevakadinata, from Suva, Fiji, assigned to Commander, Naval Forces Korea
- Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 1st Class Carl Bates, from Sonora, California, assigned to Commander Task Force 72
- Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ian Dave Estrada, from Fullerton, California and Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines, assigned to Commander Task Force 73.
Candidates spent the week in Yokosuka, participating in numerous events centered on professional development to help expand their leadership skills and social engagements with 7th Fleet leadership, the SOY candidates and their respective Command Master Chiefs, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) leadership and personnel.
Petty Officer Mark Lewis was announced as the 2022 7th Fleet Sea SOY winner during the ceremony.
“I feel extremely honored and humbled to have been recognized as the U.S. 7th Fleet Sea SOY. Winning at this level is truly a reflection of the type of people I’m so fortunate to have in my life,” said Lewis. “My leadership, my peers, my Sailors, and my amazing wife Sierra truly deserve credit for this win because, without them, I would without a doubt not be where I am today”
Bates, the 2022 7th Fleet Shore SOY winner, said his success is not his alone and that he owes it to the support he has gotten from his command and his mentors.
“This is such an amazing and humbling experience,” said Bates. “Thank you to all my mentors and my team back at TOC (Tactical Operations Command) Kadena. I would not be here it wasn’t for you all.”
Thomas added that the high tempo of 7th Fleet requires a level of confidence in the Sailors under his command that they meet and exceed on a regular basis.
“The individual Sailor is at the core of every team, task force, and exercise executed across 7th Fleet. I rely on my commanders to exercise precision and confidence when executing orders,” said Thomas. “In order to operate 24/7 in this very dynamic region, it takes everyone – up and down the chain – to replicate that same level of high-caliber attention to accomplishing each and every goal.”
The Sailor of the Year program was established in 1972 by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Whittet to recognize an individual Sailor who best represented the ever-growing group of dedicated professional Sailors at each command and ultimately the Navy.
Each year, every U.S. Navy ship, station, and command around the world chooses its Sailor of the Year based on leadership, professionalism, dedication, and superior performance. These selectees compete against recipients from other commands, eventually competing at higher echelons until U.S. Pacific Fleet's finest are chosen.
The winners of the Sea and Shore 2022 Sailor of the Year will represent U.S. 7th Fleet at the U.S. Pacific Fleet competition.
“As far as PACFLT SOY, just like I did for this board, I want to represent everyone who has helped me get to this point with the addition of representing 7th Fleet in the best way possible,” said Lewis. “I know the competition is going to be fierce. I’m going up against Sailors who are more than likely going to be wearing khakis in a few months, so nothing is guaranteed. I’m just going to take in the moment, do my best to represent our fleet, my leadership, peers, junior Sailors and family, and hopefully I can bring it home for 7th for a 2nd year in a row.”
U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build maritime partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and prevent conflict.