A Virginia Beach, Virginia, native and 2015 Southern Illinois University graduate was meritoriously advanced to the rank of chief petty officer as the U.S. Pacific Fleet Sea Sailor of the Year (SOY) during a ceremony held at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 16.
Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Natelli, a Navy interior communications electrician assigned to USS Bonhomme Richard, is one of four honorees who visited to Washington, D.C., May 14-17, for the SOY Recognition Week, hosted by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Russell Smith.
Each year, every Navy command around the world chooses its SOY based on leadership, professionalism, dedication and superior performance. These selectees compete against recipients from other commands, eventually competing at higher echelons until the Navy's four finest are chosen as the U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Navy Shore and U.S. Fleet Forces Sailors of the Year.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt and MCPON John Whittet initiated the SOY program in 1972 to recognize outstanding Atlantic and Pacific Fleet sailors. Navy Reserve and Shore SOY programs were later introduced.
During the ceremony, Smith gave the Sailors of the Year some advice to keep in mind as they continue their careers as chief petty officers.
"Everyone who has ever written a letter for you, made a phone call for you, sat down and gave you advice, took time out of their day – making their day longer – to help you get to this point in your career is the reason you’re standing here," said Smith. "Your special obligation for the rest of your career and the remainder of the time you wear those anchors is to earn this."
Throughout the week these four sailors and their families had the opportunity to tour Mount Vernon, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian Museums, among many other leadership, naval heritage, and team-building events.
“My most memorable moment of this week was visiting Mount Vernon and walking the grounds where our first commander in chief walked and lived his life,” said Natelli.
Chief Petty Officer Natelli was born June 8, 1981 in Denver, Colorado. He attended Bayside Middle and High school in Virginia Beach, Virginia, until joining the U.S. Navy at the age of 18 on Dec. 9, 1999. His first ship was the USS Nimitz, stationed in Newport News, Virginia. After one year, having been promoted to petty officer third class, he completed a duty swap and was stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower where he completed his five years at sea, advanced to petty officer second class and earned both Enlisted Surface and Aviation Warfare Specialist designations. He later served at Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) for shore duty and was advanced to petty officer first class.
Additionally he earned his associate's degree in biomedical engineering after having been enlisted for six years. His next assignment was to Sasebo, Japan, on a Forward-Deployed Naval Force (FDNP) USS Guardian where he survived having run aground and having to abandon ship 80 miles off the coast of the Philippines. He spent the next three weeks transitioning between the USNS Bowditch, the USNS Rappahannock and eventually to the USS Mustin before making his way back to homeport Sasebo, Japan. He was later tasked with meeting the USS Warrior that was being heavy lifted from Bahrain to San Diego and prepared the ship to be brought back online and homeport shifted to Sasebo, Japan. His follow-on assignment was instructor duty in Great Lakes, Illinois, at the Center for Surface Combat Systems Unit Great Lakes where he earned his Master Training Specialist and his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Workforce Education and Development.
He is currently serving aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, which just completed their homeport shift from Sasebo, Japan, to San Diego.
Over his 18-year career he has earned eight Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and two Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medals.
“Growing up in Virginia Beach, I struggled with a lot of setbacks, but learned to never give up and no matter how many times I fell to get back up again,” said Natelli. “Serving in the Navy has been a great honor in that it has afforded me the best opportunities of travel, meeting all walks of life, gaining experience and getting an education.”
“Being promoted to chief means being able to serve longer and more opportunities to make an impact,” said Natelli. “I hope that I will be able to be a great leader and help as many people as I can along the way. If I had enough time left in the Navy it would be a dream come true to become the next MCPON.”