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Year's top Coasties honored for hard work, altruism

May. 26, 2013 - 10:47AM   |  
Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Benjamin Snider, the Coast Guard's Enlisted Person of the Year, is pinned by his wife, Jesse, and BMCM James Clemens.
Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Benjamin Snider, the Coast Guard's Enlisted Person of the Year, is pinned by his wife, Jesse, and BMCM James Clemens. (Thomas Brown/Staff)
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Yeoman 1st Class Stepheni Norton, the service's top enlisted reservist, gets pinned by her fiance, BM3 Michael Lesley, and her father, Stephen, a retired Navy chief. (Thomas Brown/Staff)

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Benjamin Snider is a natural leader who’s been known to surprise other boat crews with an extra set of hands. Chief Yeoman Stepheni Norton is fast and efficient on the job, but also compassionate to members of her community. Together, they make up this year’s top enlisted Coasties.

Both stood at attention May 10 at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they were meritoriously promoted to chief. The promotion is just one plus of winning the service titles of Enlisted Person, and Reserve Enlisted Person, of the Year.

As the EPOY and REPOY, Snider and Norton represent the best of the best of the men and women in the Coast Guard, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt said at the ceremony. To be eligible for the award, they were both selected by their Coast Guard district as their respective enlisted and reserve persons of the year. They competed against the winners from the eight other districts. A panel of enlisted and reserve master chiefs chose the servicewide winners.

Snider is a senior surfman at Coast Guard Station Umpqua River, Ore. He was nominated by Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate James Clemens, who describes Snider as inspiring.

“He is a born leader. ... His workforce, they follow him like the Pied Piper. It’s amazing,” Clemens said. “Even people like me who are senior to him are inspired by his dedication and his enthusiasm for his job, and not just for the job, but life in general.”

Just one example: Snider with his crew surprised another unit by completing hull maintenance on their boat.

But the father of four also is active in his community. He has coordinated a cancer awareness run and organized a food drive that yielded more than 1,000 pounds of food for an Oregon food bank.

Norton is a member of Port Security Unit 311, serving as the administrative officer at Maritime Security Detachment, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. She was joined in Washington by her father, a Navy veteran.

The elder Norton had to fight back tears during the ceremony, held on the same day, 49 years after he enlisted.

“She has always gone one step beyond in everything that she has done,” said Stephen Norton, a retired Navy chief interior communications electrician.

The reservist is noted for her proficiency on the job, where she managed to process amendments to 122 orders in just 16 hours — a great feat for an admin officer.

But Norton’s father was proud to talk about her humanity. On her 30th birthday, for example, she packed 100 bag lunches for the homeless, placing $5 in each one, and then handed them out on the streets of San Diego.

After receiving the awards, Snider and Norton said their titles were reflections of their shipmates.

“It’s really just that I get to represent all of them, in all of the things that they do,” said Norton, referring to her fellow reservists. “People from all over the Coast Guard got recommended for this because they have done phenomenal things. ... I’m just the one that got to accept it.”

Both Coasties also received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal and the Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon. Columbia Southern University awarded a two-year scholarship to each, and they also received gifts to include a TV, a tablet and gift cards.

At the ceremony, Jeannie Sansone was also recognized as the Civilian Employee of the Year and Cara Nix accepted the award for Non-Appropriated Fund Civilian Employee of the Year. Sansone is a facilities engineering program specialist at Training Center Cape May, N.J., and Nix works as a sales clerk leader at the Coast Guard Base Honolulu Exchange in Hawaii.

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