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A Sailor's Journey to Sailor of the Year

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SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Facing adversity in life is inevitable, but as the famous “Rocky” saying goes, “it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” For the Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific (SURFPAC) 2018 Sailor of the Year (SOY), Interior Communications Specialist 1st Class Nick Natelli, his career has been a true example of what a Sailor can achieve by putting forth the effort to Rise Above.

During his 19-year career, Natelli had been subjected to non-judicial punishment for missing ship’s movement and lost his security clearance while in his last semester at Old Dominion University for the Seaman-to-Admiral (STA-21) program. But through his honor, courage and commitment, he overcame these setbacks and earned recognition as the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) SOY, then Commander, Amphibious Squadron 3 SOY, Expeditionary Strike Group 3 SOY, SURFPAC SOY, and nomination for Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet Surface SOY.

"I encourage all our Sailors to 'Rise Above' and strive for success," said Capt. Rich LeBron, Bonhomme Richard's commanding officer. "I want to inspire our Sailors to aspire for excellence and serve as a model of what we can achieve Navy-wide with the right focus and the right message. IC1 Natelli is the perfect example of what I mean. He has successfully bounced back from many setbacks and is a Sailor who continuously makes the whole BHR family proud."

From the age of 12 Natelli was a runaway. He lived more or less on his own, staying with his parents, grandparents, friends or on the street.

“I realized the error of my ways around the age of 17, and started looking for a way forward,” said Natelli. “I noticed a lot of Sailors in my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, had nice cars, and the idea of the military being challenging excited me. So after getting my GED, I enlisted as an undesignated Fireman at the age of 18.”

After graduating from boot camp, Natelli described feeling like a new person.

“The way I walked, the way I talked, my aspirations and my drive - all felt as if they had been opened up,” said Natelli. “Now I wasn’t just completing tasks because I was told to. I wanted to do these extra things so that I could be the best.”     

Natelli began to form his goals and work toward them. He was top of his class at the Fireman Apprenticeship Training program and was sent to Interior Communications (IC) Advanced (“A”) school.

After completing “A” school, Natelli was sent to his first command aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). He served one year on the carrier before duty swapping to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower (CVN 69), where he served four years. Natelli made Petty Officer 2nd class on Eisenhower before going to Continuation (“C”) school at Great Lakes, where he was promoted to 1st class petty officer, the rank in which he has served for the last 14 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of friends, shipmates and even a lot of junior personnel - all advance into the Chief’s mess,” said Natelli. “I couldn’t be deterred from not being committed to the job, even though I was not advancing. Regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day I have to tell myself that I gave 100 percent.”

Natelli says the key to commitment is to find the fun within each situation.

“If you are doing a job that you love, it’s no longer work,” said Natelli. “I love my job as an IC. We have a lot of diversity on what we can work on, and we work with every department on the ship - that keeps me motivated to keep going. It’s the people too. The Navy is so diverse, that is one of my favorite things about the Navy. You’ve got to enjoy time, that’s the key.”

Natelli was later sent to Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC), where he was selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer for the STA-21 program, and was sent to the Naval Science Institute (NSI) in Newport, R.I. After completing the officer program at NSI, Natelli moved on to the graduate program at Old Dominion Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) with a major in General Engineering Technology.

While attending college, Natelli began to have troubles at home.

“I was going through a rough divorce and I lost my security clearance,” said Natelli. “The process to get my clearance back was going to take two years. After all of my hard work, things started falling down around me and I lost my footing. I was dropped from the program during my last semester.”

After losing his opportunity to become an officer, Natelli found the strength to continue by remembering his basic training at boot camp. He remembered how empowered he felt graduating boot camp and the honor that came with his first few days as a Sailor.

“I think of the movie ‘Men of Honor’,” said Natelli. “I think of the master diver, all the obstacles that he had to overcome. He never stopped, no matter the trial or tribulation, he stayed committed. I think honor and commitment go hand-in-hand. I believe that a person who behaves that way will always reflect positive credit upon themselves, upon the Navy and as an ambassador the United States of America.”

Natelli returned to the fleet and became part of the crew of the mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian (MCM 5). On January 13, 2013, Natelli and the rest of his crew received instruction from their captain to abandon ship after they ran aground 80 miles off the coast of the Philippines.    

“During the casualty, I was an Engineer of the Watch,” said Natelli. “Basically, I was in charge of keeping the ship water-free and maintaining electrical power for as long as we could. I was one of the last ten people to abandon the ship.

“All of the damage control trainings we do all of the time happened all at once,” said Natelli. “All of them from flooding to abandon ship. It was total chaos. Half of the crew was picked up by one ship and half by another, we all returned to shore two weeks later with no ship.”

While in port with no ship, Natelli could see a problem with the morale of his shipmates, so he routed a proposal to his commanding officer to become head of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program.        

“We did a lot of volunteer events, so the Sailor felt a sense of purpose,” said Natelli. “We did a lot of sponsored trips. Finally we were given the mine countermeasure ship USS Warrior (MCM 10).”         

Natelli’s experience during his time with the crew of the Guardian after they lost their ship allowed him to reflect on his character and what courage meant to him.           

“It took some courage from us all to do what we did that day to make sure no one was hurt,” said Natelli. “But one thing about courage that I have learned is that it takes courage to be a leader.

“I’ve learned to find the faith in others and enable them to do the things that need to be done for the team to succeed,” said Natelli. “I’ve also learned to exchange your ideas and collaborate as a team. It’s easy to think that you can do the job best by yourself but it takes a team to make big things happen.”    

“They say tough times make strong men and IC1 Natelli is a direct reflection of this saying,” said Master Chief Information Systems Technician Rich Huerta, Natelli’s departmental leading chief petty officer. “His challenges have developed his leadership and commitment to his family, Sailors and the U.S. Navy. Our department is proud of IC1 Natelli’s accomplishments and representation of the USS Bonhomme Richard.”

Natelli will compete for Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) Surface Sailor of the Year. The PACFLT winner is meritoriously advanced to the rank of Chief Petty Officer.

Bonhomme Richard is in its homeport of San Diego.

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