U.S. Pacific Fleet Sea Sailor of the Year (SOY) finalists — including Sea SOY Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Corey Smith, back row left, and Shore SOY Navy Diver 1st Class Kristoffer Ilagan, back row second from right — and Pacific Fleet senior enlisted leaders pose for a group photo earlier this week. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Phillip Pavlovich)

HONOLULU - Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, announced Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Corey Smith as the 2015 Sea Sailor of the Year (SOY) and Navy Diver 1st Class Kristoffer Ilagan as Shore SOY during a ceremony at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu March 25.

Prior to announcing the winners of the competition, Swift and U.S. Pacific Fleet Master Chief Suz Whitman commended all 14 finalists for their excellence, integrity, teamwork, and leadership.

“It’s been an extraordinary week for me and a reminder of the true value of our people which is our most important resource,” said Swift. “All you need to do is be exposed to an event like this to realize it.”

Representing USS Essex (LHD 2), Smith will fly to Washington, D.C. and will be meritoriously promoted to chief petty officer. Smith was surprised when his name was announced as the sailor of the year.

“Being here today to represent the Pacific Fleet is so humbling,” said Smith. “So many people along the way have taken the time to teach me … now it’s time to pay it forward.” Ilagan, representing Undersea Rescue Command, will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the Chief of Naval Operations Shore Sailor of the Year competition.

“I’m feeling ecstatic… it’s surreal,” said Ilagan. “This is such an overwhelming experience. Even still, I’m a little sad for my fellow competitors each one of those folks are winners.”

Leading up to the ceremony, the 14 finalists spent the week in Pearl Harbor learning about the rich naval history and heritage of the area with visits to the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and the USS Arizona Memorial. During their time on the Arizona Memorial, they honored the Sailors who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor with a wreath-laying ceremony.

“I will never forget this experience,” said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 1st Class Elizabeth Stanton, assigned to Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet. “I’ve learned so much since I first started this journey, from winning for my command to winning for the Seventh Fleet AOR and now here. This journey really has reinvigorated my love for the Navy and I’m definitely going to pass that on to my Sailors.”

The journey included boards at each echelon of command, leading up to this week, to identify the top Pacific Fleet Sea and Shore Sailor.

“You put some stress on yourself because you want to be prepared. You have binders and binders of information to study,” said Naval Air Crewman 1st Class Kevin Remmers, assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78. “From that aspect, it was stressful, but at the same time it’s so energizing to be around this caliber of people.”

This process isn’t meant to be easy, and the Master Chiefs who sit the boards take their jobs very seriously.

"We are recognizing the best of the best and showing our junior Sailors that they are valued, relevant, and that they have something to shoot for," said Whitman. "Today we even had the honor of selecting the Navy's newest chief petty officer."

For many of the other Sailors, the road to becoming a SOY finalist has been a rewarding experience in and of itself, one filled with self-determination and selflessness.

“My hard work paid off and I feel truly blessed to be here,” said Legalman 1st Class Belinda Hall, assigned to Carrier Strike Group One. “It’s nice knowing that Sailors are being taken care of and will continue to be taken care of after the week is finished.”

Former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt and former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Whittet established the SOY program in 1972 to recognize an individual Sailor who best represents the group of dedicated professional Sailors at each command and, ultimately, in the Navy.

The Sea Sailor of the Year finalists were:

Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 1st Class Kevin Remmers, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78

Construction Mechanic 1st Class Jeremy Harris, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3

Cryptologic Technician (Technicial) Elizabeth Stanton, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet staff

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Corey Smith, USS Essex (LHD 2)

Legalman 1st Class Belinda Hall, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1

Machinist Mate 1st Class Vinh Mai, USS Buffalo (SSN 715)

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Justin Langley, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One

The Shore Sailor of the Year finalists were:

Naval Air Crewman (Tactical Helicopter) 1st Class James Givens, Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Weapons School Pacific

Navy Diver 1st Class Kyle Hubbard, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training and Evaluation Unit One

Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Chad Evers, Tactical Operations Center Kadena

Yeoman 1st Class John Singleton, Afloat Training Group (ATG), Middle Pacific

Fire Controlman 1st Class Brandon York, Commander U.S. Third Fleet staff

Navy Diver 1st Class Kristoffer Ilagan, Undersea Rescue Command

Navy Diver 1st Class Alberto Alejo, Naval Ship Repair Facility/Japan Regional Maintenance Center

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, presents Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Corey Smith, U.S. Pacific Fleet's Sea Sailor (SOY) of the Year, with a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal during the SOY closing ceremony. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Phillip Pavlovich)
Navy Diver 1st Class Kristoffer Ilagan, the Pacific Fleet Shore Sailor of the Year (SOY), receives a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal from Adm. Swift. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Phillip Pavlovich)