NAS Fallon sailor, Royals great both recognized in the name of Bob Feller
By Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group
Both Chief Petty Officer Joshua Sawyer, an air traffic controller at Naval Air Station Fallon, and Major League Hall of Fame player George Brett have one thing in common. Both men have been honored by the Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation for their dedication of serving to the military and for dedicating their time to honor and recognize veterans.
Sawyer has won the 2021 United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Award, which is one of seven categories individual or groups receive recognition from the Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation.
Brett, who spent his entire career with the Kansas City Royals before retiring in 1993, received the award in 2015 as the National Baseball Hall of Fame Award recipient. The longtime Kansas City third baseman, who was inducted at Cooperstown in 1999, recently spoke at the University of Nevada’s Bobby Dolan dinner, a major fundraiser for the Wolf Pack’s baseball team.
Bob Feller’s legacy
Major League baseball pitcher Bob Feller emerged as the face of the Cleveland Indians over a 20-year playing career and then as an ambassador of good will for both the city and ballclub.
A World War II veteran who enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Iowa native served on the battleship USS Alabama in both the Atlantic near the British isles and later in the Pacific where he saw his first taste of combat in November 1943. Feller’s combat duty ended in January 1945, almost eight months before Japan surrendered.
Feller achieved the rank of chief petty officer and was discharged from service on Aug. 22, 1945. While serving in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, he was awarded six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.
Three years after Feller’s death on Dec. 15, 2010, an award was created in his name as the Bob Feller Act of Valor award which recognizes both Major League Hall of Fame and baseball players as well as sailors and Marines who served their country with integrity, values and dedication like Feller did generations before them.
Feller, who enlisted when he was 23 years old, served his country during his prime as a baseball player. Over the years, Feller was asked about the most important game he won. Without hesitation, his answer was always “World War II.”
Redemption has rewards
Sawyer’s resume of service to his country shows his dedication to those who serve with him and to his fortitude to overcome adversity.
“A decade ago I made a crucial mistake in an incident and went to a captain’s mast,” said Sawyer, who enlisted in the Navy after high school in 2003. “I had two roads. Quit and get out or stay in and learn from the mistakes to better myself.”
Sawyer chose the second road to become what a sailor should emulate. Over the next 10 years, Sawyer said he had worked hard to give back to his community, command and families. At Whidbey Island, a naval air station (NAS) north of Seattle, Wash., Sawyer proved himself worthy of his first-class petty officer rank and qualified as a Facility Watch supervisor and then voted by his peers to lead the First Class Petty Officer Association as president. In 2015, he was awarded the Vice Admiral Robert B. Pirie Naval Air Traffic Controller of the Year and Navy Lingiam Odems Memorial Air Traffic Controller of the Year.
Sawyer left Whidbey Island for TACRON (Tactical Air Control Squadron) Eleven, Coronado, Calif., where he completed the Amphibious Air Traffic Control course before going on back-to-back deployments on the USS America and then the USS Essex as the LCPO of leading chief petty officer. He also became a chief petty officer in 2017. While on the second deployment of nine months with 5th Fleet, Sawyer was responsible for 23 sailors under his watch.
“We were able to get through together,” he said of their deployment, adding he and his sailors strived to meet their they goals.”
His superiors also expressed the same feelings.
“The Navy said make sure they do their job, and they come home safely,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer led the 24 (or 23) sailors across five ratings during the Essex Amphibious Ready Group Fleet Readiness program and deployment. His crew accomplished 100% in-rate qualifications.
According to the Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation, “While on deployment, Chief Sawyer sought out community outreach programs when his unit made port calls. This led to events in both Malaysia and Bahrain that not only helped improve the local area, but also helped raise money for the local school’s supplies, toys, and sporting equipment.”
NAS Fallon’s challenges
Sawyer’s next duty station took him to another naval air station in the West, NAS Fallon, in 2020, where he immersed himself into both the military and civilian communities. As the Air Traffic Control section chief for a Class IV facility, Sawyer leads a division of 56 sailors who improved their qualifications, as he did, while the sailors performed more than 100 hours of community service.
That hasn’t stopped Sawyer and his fellow sailors from volunteering in the Churchill County community according to his application.
- Sailors have been involved with the U.S. Department of Agriculture food drives that encompassed more than 100 hours of outreach.
- Sawyer rejuvenated the SAILOR 360 program during the COVID-19 months and volunteered outside the box to complete three roadside cleanups, a May Ranch cleanup and two cleanups for Habitat for Humanity that totaled more than 250 hours of community service.
- Sawyer helped his father’s company and with assistance from the Chief’s Mess, he raised $2,600 for a Special Olympics program in Houston, Texas.
- He served as the fund drive coordinator for the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society and managed 23 people had raised $23,097 for NAS Fallon and tenant commands.
- As a volunteer with the Northern Nevada Chiefs’ mess, Sawyer and other chief petty officers provided 87 meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas for sailors remaining in Fallon during the holidays.
- Sawyer’s team helped move an 82-year-old veteran to a new residence from his longtime country home.
- Sawyer has been active in coaching sports and also officiating softball, basketball and football.
- During his career, Sawyer also earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Sawyer helps Fallon
Capt. Evan Morrison, commanding officer for NAS Fallon, said he wasn’t familiar with the Bob Feller Act of Valor award until he did his own research.
“I thought is a pretty prestigious award,” Morrison said.
Morrison is also Sawyer’s current rater. For Sawyer to compete for the 2021 United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Award, Morrison knew his young sailor would be facing strong competition.
“This is an all-Navy award cross the fleet,” Morrison said.
Once he learned of Sawyer’s selection for the award last fall, Morrison said the honor says much about the 18-year veteran and the support he has had.
“He was very humble about it,” Morrison pointed out, then referring to a baseball analogy. “Baseball is like the Navy, team sports surrounded by good people. He didn’t win it by himself.”
Morrison couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for Sawyer’s selection for the Bob Feller award. The base captain said he admired Feller’s tenacity both during and after the award and compared Sawyer’s motivation to the great Hall of Fame player who led Cleveland to a World Series win in 1948.
“It’s great he (Sawyer represents the base and local area,” Morrison said. “That says a lot.”
Both Sawyer and retired Master CPO Michael Terry of Fallon also worked together on a project last December involving newly selected chief petty officers. On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, Sawyer and Terry participated with the 12 chief selectees in a flag-retiring ceremony from the Search and Rescue’s “SAR Mountain.”
Terry walked away impressed with Sawyer’s leadership skills.
“He’s a super guy. He’s thoughtful doing everything within his power as a CPO,” Terry said. “Anyone who makes chief goes through a good process.”
Sawyer’s time is winding down in Fallon. He received orders to report to the aircraft carrier USS Truman in July; however, he said if he is promoted to a senior CPO, his orders may change.
Sawyer’s comments for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation summed up his career, which has been one of serving and giving:
“Being selected as the 2021 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award winner is truly humbling. I was told I went up against 40 or so other well deserving Brothers and Sisters from the [Chief’s] mess and being the one selection chosen by MCPON, Fleet, and Force Master Chiefs is a true honor.
“I plan every day to try and emulate Bob Feller’s nine core principles he lived by that got him through a Hall of Fame Baseball career as well as a highly decorated and successful tour during World War II. It really is hard to put into words what this means to me, and I just thank my sailors and leadership for giving me an opportunity to lead and learn every day.”
Brett’s support of veterans
Brett said he has spent many years after his retirement from playing baseball to supporting veterans and their causes. He said he was humbled to receive the award in 2015.
“Wow, what an honor,” said Brett, who was not able to attend in person due to the Royals winning the World Series. “I am constantly amazed at the work servicemen and women do for our country. To be recognized in the name of Bob Feller and to have the honor in getting to know some outstanding members of the Navy is truly special.”
Brett, though, attended a Bob Feller Act of Valor event at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy (NMUSN) on July 17, 2018, that presented a baseball-themed exhibition called Playball: Navy and the National Pastime. Veterans from an Honor Flight Nevada trip to Washington, D.C. also visited the exhibition in early June 2019.
Brett has a personal connection to the military. His father Jack served in the U.S. Army and was wounded after storming he beaches at Normandy in June 1944.
“He got shot up pretty good in France,” Brett said.
Jack Brett, who was born in Brooklyn in 1923, joined the war effort as an 18-year-old dropout, and stayed in the Army until 1945. He told his son’s biographer, John Garrity, he was shot in the leg. George Brett wanted to know more about the area and what his father faced in June 1944.
“I went to the city. I went to Normandy, went down to the cliffs and looked down at the beach,” Brett said. “I spent the night thee and went to all the museums. My father was a part of this.”
George’s second-oldest brother and former Major League Baseball pitcher, Ken, served in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Ironically, the baseball player George Brett has a namesake with Lt. Gen. George Brett, who served in World War I as a staff officer and then during the second world war, he commanded both aviation assets and the U.S. Caribbean Defense Command.
Brett’s involvement with the military has continued since his playing days. Two years ago, Brett traveled to Kuwait for 10 days to see the troops. Not only did visiting the military make an impression but so did the 122-degree heat. Closer to home, he’s involved with a group called the Royals Caravan that visits military installations, schools, shopping malls.
“They go out and connect with the people,” Brett explained.
Whenever there’s an opportunity to visit a base and his schedule is free, Brett said he will usually go on a caravan. Yet, the desire to go another USO trip overseas has stuck with Brett since he first visited Germany, Greece and Turkey in 1976.
“We took a C-141 (Starlifter) to Wiesbaden (Germany),” Brett said, and from there the USO entourage spent 23 days at remote U.S. bases in Turkey. “I would like to do another USO show with the military.”
Brett smiled with a request.
“Anything I can do, call me,” he said, grinning. “I just love being around them.”
ACT OF VALOR 2021 Award Recipients:
- National Baseball Hall of Fame Award: Joe Torre, Major League Baseball
- Major League Baseball Award: Griffin Jax, Minnesota Twins
- United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Award: ACC (AW/SW/IW) Joshua A. Sawyer, Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada
- United States Marine Corps, Jerry Coleman Award: First Sergeant, Daniel P. Best, Support Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Support Battalion, III Marine Information Group
- Peer-to-Peer, Sea Command Award: USS GERMANTOWN (LSD 42) Junior Enlisted Association, Sasebo Japan.
- Peer-to-Peer, Ashore Installation Award: Training Support Center, Great Lakes, IL Chapter of the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions (CSADD)
- Bob Feller Fellowship Award: Galen Odell, Emerson College