Vice Admiral Bill Moran (left) and Fleet Master Chief April Beldo (right) accompanied U. S. Navy Chief Naval Personnel/Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education Sailor of the Year candidates (from left) Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Johnetta Heckard, Navy Counselor 1st Class Ryan Blackmer and Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sharon Barker at the Bulls game on Wednesday night.
Scott A. Thornbloom

Bulls welcome Navy's Sailor of the Year candidates

By Adam Fluck | 02.26.2015

The Chicago Bulls on Wednesday welcomed a group from the Navy which included three candidates for the Chief of Naval Personnel/Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education Sailor of the Year award.

The Sailor of the Year program was established in 1972 to recognize individuals who best represent the ever-growing group of dedicated professional sailors at each command and ultimately the Navy.

Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the Navy’s 57th chief of naval personnel, was among those in attendance at the United Center. After he and his group spent some time courtside watching the Bulls warm up and talking to John Paxson, executive vice president of basketball operations for the team, he provided some background on the award.

“Every service picks an enlisted person of the year,” Vice Adm. Moran explained of recognizing those who consistently embody the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment. “For the Navy, it’s the Sailor of the Year in commands throughout the fleet. We’ve got thousands of commands in my world, which we call the manpower, personnel and training command, and there are about 7,000 first class petty officers.”

That group competes to be among the top three and this year, the finalists are Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sharon Barker, Navy Councilor 1st Class Ryan Blackmer and Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Johnetta Heckard.

“They’re smiling now, but they’re pretty nervous about it,” Vice Adm. Moran said as he introduced the trio. “They’ve all got incredible backgrounds and stories about how they got to this point in their lives. It’s pretty impressive.

“What qualifies them is when their chain of command looks at them and says they’ve outperformed everyone else,” Vice Adm. Moran continued. “They are dedicated, they are smart, and they bring so much to the table. They are leaders of the junior sailors under them and they do everything we ask them to do. They are the best of the best.”

With Sailor of the Year to be announced Friday at a luncheon, the significance of the recognition is not lost on three candidates in contention. Aside from the accolade itself, meritorious advancement to chief petty officer will be awarded to the recipient.

“To be considered for Sailor of the Year is an honor in itself that is not taken lightly,” stated Navy Councilor 1st Class Ryan Blackmer.

“It would be very humbling and to my junior sailors back at  the command it would show that through hard work, dedication and motivation, you can be here eventually too as long as you stay on the right track,” said Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Johnetta Heckard.

“Ten years ago when I joined and I walked through the gates of boot camp, I never thought that I could be here,” Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sharon Barker explained. “It’s been a very humbling experience. This whole week, we’ve toured Chicago and it’s been amazing. I can’t wait to go back and tell the stories to my junior sailors.”