YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- In front of a capacity crowd within the U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Yokosuka command auditorium, Commander, Navy Medicine West, Rear Adm. Paul Pearigen was on hand to recognize service members who were part of the emergency response team for the recent USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) incident, during a ceremony held in their honor, Jul. 21.
"Probably the best and safest thing for me to do is simply say thank you because that's really the message," said Pearigen. "I want to recognize you collectively as well as individually for various roles, responses and professionalism that you showed in taking care of your shipmates."
In the early morning hours of June 17, USS Fitzgerald was involved in a catastrophic collision at sea with ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged container ship, southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.
The collision caused extensive damage to the ship, resulting in multiple injuries and the deaths of seven Fitzgerald Sailors.
Despite the damage, the Fitzgerald was able to return to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka due to the heroic efforts of its crew.
"As your NAVMED West commander, I wanted to come over to this part of the world to tell you how incredibly proud I am of Naval Hospital Yokosuka and the entire staff here," said Pearigen.
Pearigen emphasized that the hospital as a whole was able to respond to the crisis due to proper training, professionalism, great equipment, modern technologies, correct supervision, mentorship, duplication and support, to name a few.
"I know you have had a lot of visitors with more stars on their collars than what I have come by here and you deserve every bit of that. I can tell you that it is pretty clear in the conversations that I've had with Navy leadership - folks recognize and appreciate and are literally in awe of what you've done and what you are still doing."
Fitzgerald recently moved to dry dock on board Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka to continue repairs and assessments of the damage sustained from the collision.
"You know at least as well as any of them that this event is not over. It is never going to be over for the Sailors of the Fitzgerald and it's never going to be over for some of you or for any of us," said Pearigen.
Upon completion of his introduction speech, Pearigen then presented command coins to specially selected individuals in appreciation of efforts during the incident.
Sailors who received coins were Lieutenant's Liza Stone and Michelle Barba; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Classes' Joshua Blanchard, Kayla Thayer, Kimmi Nguyen and Joshua Maestas, and Hospitalman Madison Skerkavich.
"Honestly I was surprised just because we just do what we do day in and day out with no reward expected," said Skerkavich, an emergency department corpsman. "Our reward is we get to make someone feel better and even more so when you have the opportunity to save someone's life. Either way, it's a great outcome. You get to do things for people that they are never able to repay you for and that's probably the best that you could do. That's why I like being a Corpsman so it was a huge honor today."
Emergency team members spoke in length with regards to how the entire staff joined together to provide medical assistance, each of which working cohesively and diligently to ensure the Fitzgerald crew received the best treatment possible.
"It's always good to see that we're not forgotten about on the enlisted side at a small hospital like this," said Blanchard, the emergency room assistant leading petty officer. "Navy Medicine West is a huge command and Rear Adm. Pearigen has a lot of clinics and hospitals, to include Balboa that he is in charge of so it's good to see that he's willing to take the time to come over here and speak with us because not everyone of our junior Sailors knows who he is."
Blanchard said that although it was an honor to receive a coin, he was more excited for Skerkavich to receive hers, and also emphasized the time and effort that his entire team put in. He continued to express the importance for the leadership to show the junior troops that they are actually concerned for their well- being.
"It's good to know that the stars they wear don't make them any less of a human; they still care," said Blanchard.
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