Six Sailors from across the southeastern portion of the United States arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville to determine who would be named the Commander, Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE) Sailor of the Year.

MA1 Matthew Labiak from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia; NC1 Sarah Prather from NAS Joint Reserve Base (JRB) New Orleans, AD1 Kashadra Jenkins from Transient Personnel Unit/Pre-Trial Confinement Facility Jacksonville, MA1 Christopher Coolahan from NAS Fort Worth JRB, MA1 Joshua Dietrich from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and AC1 Michael Hein from NAS Whiting Field, Florida were the final nominees for the award out of CNRSE’s 18 installations.

Hein was named the Region Sailor of the Year by Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, CNRSE. While congratulating Hein on his selection, Bolivar praised all the participants.

“[These] Sailors represent the very ‘best of the best’ throughout the region,” she said, “and are to be commended for their sustained superior performance. “Bravo Zulu and a job well done, Shipmates!”

Hein said he was “genuinely surprised” by his selection.

“My shipmates are so impressive,” he said.

“It is my first time up for an award like this. It is a great validation to be recognized for being good at your trade.”

Serving as the flight planning branch chief, Hein performed admirably in a job normally held by a chief petty officer. He supervised his team in the filing and processing of over 49,000 aircraft flight plans and greater than 100,000 movement messages. As the leading petty officer for the division, his 24-person team managed 165,826 mishap-free flight operations, in excess of 7,000 ground controlled approaches and aided in the designation of 1,352 naval aviators.

In addition to his traditional duties, Hein also supports NAS Whiting Field as the assistant command managed equal opportunity lead to ensure fair and equitable treatment of every Sailor at the installation. He also was selected to facilitate the Full Speed Ahead curriculum at the base, setting up 13 courses and ensuring the training completion for 190 personnel.

Hein also represents NAS Whiting Field to the Federal Aviation Administration as a terminal instrument procedures specialist, served on the Command Resiliency Team, is a command financial specialist and one of only six first class petty officers qualified to stand the command duty officer watch at the installation.

Hein’s contributions are not limited to Whiting Field, as he also works to improve the local community.

He devoted personal time to deliver meals to families affected by Hurricane Michael, works with the Meals on Wheels program, helped place animals for adoption with the Escambia County Animal Shelter and assists in fulfilling book requests for prisoners through the Open Books program as Florida prisons no longer have libraries.

According to NAS Whiting Field Command Master Chief (CMC) Chris Leonard, Hein was nominated for the award because of his outstanding leadership and performance.

“Hein is selfless and completely dedicated to the welfare of his fellow Sailors. His integrity is irreproachable and he is sought out by Sailors from across the command for mentorship,” he said.

“As the Region Sailor of the Year, he will represent a true example, a role model, for all Sailors in the region.”

Each year, CNRSE hosts the top nominees from the 18 installations, along with their command master chiefs, to meet the Sailors, engage in local activities, as well as thank them for their service and honor their success.

The six Sailors spent time learning naval history at the site of the future USS Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) Memorial before going through a board with CMCs of their respective commands and the region CMC. The board interviews and reviews their service records to determine who is named Sailor of the Year.

One new concept added this year was that the six Sailors were tasked with providing insight into one of the Navy’s most concerning problems – that of destructive behaviors by service members. The command master chiefs decided that they wanted a new perspective on the issue and asked the Sailors of the Year to review the issues and offer suggestions.

“We had the six best Sailors across our region here and I wanted more,” CNRSE CMC Bill Houlihan said. “These six will make up a working group charged with devising policy and processes to drastically eliminate destructive behaviors like suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence and alcohol related incidents.”

The group will offer their ideas in the spring.

However, the most memorable event for the Sailors was the opportunity to attend a community relations event at the Cmdr. Clyde Lassen Veterans Home. The Sailors visited with the veterans and each came back moved by the experience.

Prather spoke about a lady she met at the veterans’ home whose husband and son were also veterans but had passed away. “I volunteer for the Wreaths Across America and promised I would lay a wreath in honor of her husband and son and take a picture for her. It was my best memory of the trip.”

Deitrich agreed. “Definitely, the veterans’ home [was the best part]. Speaking with the veterans was eye opening. The stories they have and the memories they shared were amazing.” Although this year’s event was shortened to properly honor former President George H.W. Bush following his passing, Houlihan emphasized that the necessary aspects were accomplished.

We brought them here for the oral interviews because this selection is important. Once a Sailor of the Year gets past the regional level we are talking about someone who could very likely end up in D.C. next year, pinning on anchors, selected as the Navy’s Shore Sailor of the Year. I brought the installation CMCs here to meet them, board them and determine if they are ready to be chiefs,” he said.

Although Hein was the one who rose to the top, he was quick to pass the praise to the Sailors with whom he serves and the mentors and leaders who guided him.

“Anything I have ever done well in the Navy, I can attribute to those who have helped me and those on whose shoulders I stood,” he said.

Hein will now compete for the Commander, Navy Installations Command Sailor of the Year, which recognizes the top Sailor across all shore installations in the Navy worldwide.