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Community honors Whidbey Island Naval Air Station's best

Horsing around before a ceremony Friday to honor their outstanding service, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station servicemen Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Beebe, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Benito Chavez, and Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Holloman pretend to cut a cake, together. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Horsing around before a ceremony Friday to honor their outstanding service, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station servicemen Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Beebe, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Benito Chavez, and Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Holloman pretend to cut a cake, together.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

The very best and brightest at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station were honored in a special luncheon on base this week.

For their outstanding service, Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Beebe, Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Holloman and Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Benito Chavez were named sea and shore sailors of the year and marine of the year by the Oak Harbor Area Council Navy League and the Rotary Club.

"NAS is blessed with sailors and marines with the habit of doing things right and for that, we as a community, are profoundly grateful," said Navy League President Tom Tack, during Friday's ceremony.

The base's commanding officer, Capt. Jay Johnston, echoed Tack's sentiments, saying that the day was "doubly" special. Not only are these servicemen being recognized as "top-notch" sailors and marines, but they are being publicly recognized by the community for enhancing Whidbey Island's quality of life.

"Please accept my personal congratulations, for a job well done," Johnston said.

Beebe is a cryptologic technician (collection) with Navy Information Operations Command Whidbey Island. The 27-year-old sailor from Bayfield, Colo., has been stationed at NAS Whidbey since 2007, and being named sea sailor of the year came as something of a shock.

"I was surprised I even got submitted much less won," Beebe said. "It's definitely an honor."

Enlisting in 2002, Beebe worked as an electronic warfare maintenance technician for years and in September of 2007, while underway, he "got a taste" of what its like to be a cryptologic technician or CTR. His interest was piqued and he hasn't looked back since.

Beebe said his job involves a lot of coding and decoding, but like the title implies, most of his day-to-day activities are classified.

Over the past two years, Beebe has been to Iraq twice. He spent the winter and spring of 2008 and 2009 in Al Asad, and the fall and summer of 2009 and 2010 in Balad.

His qualifications and decorations include: the Surface and Fleet Marine Force Enlisted Warfare insignias, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, two Navy good conduct medals, and various service and campaign awards.

Holloman, 35, is an aviation ordnanceman from the Center for Naval Aviation's Technical Training Unit Whidbey Island. First transferred to NAS in 1995, Holloman has since spent five years at other commands in California and Diego Garcia, a small coral atoll located south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean.

Like Beebe, he also expressed surprise and honor at being named shore sailor of the year.

"I was speechless," he said. "The only thing I could say was thank you."

An aviation ordnanceman's main job is to handle and maintain an aircraft's armament, from storing and servicing to inspecting its many types of weapons and ammunition. Holloman, however, is an instructor, and one of 51 at the training unit who have a "master training specialist" rating.

He is a former president of the 1st Class Petty Officer's Association, and has remained active in the community by volunteering with various groups, such as Habitat for Humanity of Island County. His decorations include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

Holloman, who is married with two children, hails from Philadelphia. While Whidbey Island is a big change from home, he said it's one that he has come to love.

"I left and I don't want to go back," he said.

Chavez, 35, is also with the Center for Naval Aviation's Technical Training Unit Whidbey Island under the umbrella of Marine Aviation Training Support Group 53. He's been stationed at Whidbey since March of 2009, but over his 16-year career has served on bases all over the world, from Kaneohe, Hawaii, to Okinawa, Japan.

Chavez is also an instructor and teaches an "I" level course on the Pratt & Whitney J52 axial-flow turbojet engine, which powers the EA-6B Prowler. The class instructs sailors how to completely breakdown and rebuild the engine, a process that takes between two and three weeks.

Chavez said he's not sure why he was selected as marine of the year, saying, "I just do my job," and "I do what I'm told." However, it's obvious that in his 21 months at NAS, he's earned the respect of his superiors.

"Gunnery Sergeant Chavez has been an instrumental part of this organization," said Sgt. Maj. George Espinosa, Marine Aviation Training Support Group 53. "He is the consummate mentor and always leads his Marines by example."

In March of 2008, Chavez deployed to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom with VMAQ-3 and MALS-16. His decorations include the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Second Achievement Medal 2nd award. He has an 11-year-old daughter who lives in Oak Harbor.

All three servicemen were presented with a plaque and a variety of gifts from private commercial and retail companies. Their final honor of the day was a proclamation by Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik, who proclaimed Friday as Beebe, Holloman, and Chavez day in recognition of their achievements.

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