USS Makin Island
“Gung Ho”
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Story Number: NNS090609-08

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Christopher D. Fairbanks, PCU Makin Island Public Affairs

-- The Navy's newest amphibious assault ship, Pre-commissioning Unit (PCU) Makin Island (LHD 8), is being called "Transformational", and for good reason.

The ship's cutting-edge capabilities and first of a kind gas turbine–electric hybrid propulsion plant make it a model for the large deck amphibious assault ships of the future.

Despite all this excitement about the future, one Sailor proved that Makin Island and her dedicated crew are already setting the bar high.

Makin Island's Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SW/AW/FMF) James Nicholson was selected as the Chief of Naval Operations Shore Activities Sailor of the Year (CNO SOY) in a recent ceremony held at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He was the first Sailor from a pre-commissioning command to do so. Nicholson's success in the Navy-wide competition will earn him a meritorious advancement to chief petty officer and a Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Nicholson arrived on Makin Island in 2006 as a second class Petty Officer and quickly promoted. During his two years as a new first class petty officer at Makin Island's pre-commissioning detachment in San Diego, Nicholson eagerly sought out responsibility and performed many tasks outside his normal duties as Medical Department leading petty officer. Although he has recently transferred to a new command as a result of his selection for an advanced medical program, his contributions still impact his Makin Island shipmates and have set the stage for success.

"I think his willingness to be here at one of the up-and-coming Navy warships and establishing some of the programs he really underscored what type of Sailor he really is," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (FMF) Alfredo Chaves, Makin Island Medical Department leading chief petty officer. "He was one of our many crew members that got up and got the ball rolling in the right direction."

Nicholson was involved as a command fitness leader and helped implement the fitness program. He also worked with other crew members to establish Makin Island's medical training team and eventually was selected as president of the First Class Petty Officer's Association.

"I believe he has passion," Chaves said. "He exhibited the Navy Core Values and a deep rooted sense of pride when interacting with Sailors here on Makin Island. Usually when I saw him, he [demonstrated] that love for the job and instilled it in others."

Although his main priority was to provide for the command as a whole, Nicholson also ensured his junior Sailors were taken care of. He served as a mentor for many of his shipmates, just as the chief petty officers and officers of Makin Island did for him.

"Because the PRECOM [pre-commissioning] environment can be hectic, I was encouraged to step up and do more for my Sailors," Nicholson said. "The level of performance by Makin Island's junior Sailors was the driving force behind my momentum and devotion to continue leading Sailors."

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ashley Wehner, who came to Makin Island as an E-3, is one junior Sailor still influenced by Nicholson's example.

"He wouldn't just always give me the answer," said Wehner. "He made me find the answer. He'd point me in the right direction."

Nicholson feels his success is attributable to the emphasis Makin Island put on effectively communicating with and educating the crew not only on what to do, but why it was important to do it.

Nicholson is currently assigned to the Surface Warfare Medicine Institute and pursuing a certification as an Independent Duty Corpsman. He is scheduled for his chiefs pinning July 17 and will be pinned by the Chief of Naval Operations. In mid September, he will put on the uniform of a chief petty officer, shortly before he rejoins his Makin Island shipmates for a day to share in their San Diego commissioning ceremony as a plankowner Oct 24.

For more news from PCU Makin Island, visit

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