Retired Sailor Returns for Promotion of a Lifetime
Boatswain's Mate advanced to honorary CPO
When retired Navy Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Jim Castaneda arrived on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor he was under the impression he and his fellow brothers and sisters in the Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor program were attending a ceremony honoring the 2015 Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials being held in Hawaii.
Within the shade of a famous banyan tree marked with the names of service members past, and messages testifying to their bravery and courage, Castaneda was made an honorary chief petty officer during the surprise pinning ceremony. His long, eventful journey as a U.S. Navy Sailor was finally reaching its peak.
"This feeling right now...there are no words for it," Castaneda, fighting back tears, told the approximately 200 service members, active and retired, who came out to share in the joy of his finest Navy achievement. "This was my dream before I retired, to make chief petty officer. And now it's finally a reality."
Castaneda's dream had not come without incredible determination and heartbreaking sacrifice. Joining the Navy in 1990, Castaneda was approaching his 20-year mark of active duty service when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in June 2009, a direct result of his shipboard time performing recovery (bodies) operations off the coast of India.
In 2010, while underway, Castaneda suffered a debilitating stroke onboard his ship, and his promising ascent to the rank of chief petty officer was cut short. He was granted an honorary medical retirement from active duty service, receiving a 100 percent Veterans Affairs rating for his disability. More heartbreak followed when, in 2012, he suffered a second stroke, which left him requiring the assistance of a wheel chair.
Despite these setbacks, Castaneda's spirit and pride in his dedication to the Navy remained undeterred, as he remained active within the Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor community. His involvement and motivational performances in the 2012 Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials, the 2013 Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational and the 2014 Warrior Games proved that Castaneda had plenty of fight left in him.
Yet his greatest achievement and proudest career moment was still to come.
"The journey to become a chief petty officer is not an easy one, and this man's journey exemplifies that," U.S. Pacific Fleet Master Chief Marco Ramirez told the onlookers at the ceremony. "Boats, as a leader and now a chief petty officer, you are now hereby charged to ensure your Sailors and fellow service members alike have the tools needed to perform the tasks that are required and I know you will willingly accept this responsibility."
The words that Castaneda had longed to hear spoken to him, in the role of chief petty officer, were finally a reality. Members of the audience and the Chief's Mess alike teared up as Ramirez and Master Chief Cryptologic Technician (Control) Tara O'Brien pinned the golden anchors to his collar. Then, as Ramirez placed the chief petty officer cover atop Castaneda's head, welcoming him into the Chief's Mess, the crowd erupted in applause.
"This is...the proudest moment of my naval career, to accept him into the Chief's Mess," O'Brien said afterwards. "It was long overdue. For this man to keep pushing forward, to stay motivated, to ultimately achieve this milestone; I couldn't be more proud right now."
Castaneda's son Junior echoed O'Brien's sentiments.
"I can't put the feeling of pride into words," said Junior. "I wanted to cry when I saw the look on his face, when they announced what the reason for the ceremony was. I know what this means to him, to finally be recognized as a Navy chief."
Castaneda's first order as chief was to express his gratitude to the men and women who came out to support him on his greatest of days, as well as his brothers and sisters who had served with him in the past and continue to support him today.
"I'm going to wear this everywhere, I don't care what anyone thinks," Castaneda said, referencing his chief's cover, as the crowd burst into laughter and applause. "But honestly, some of you took the time on your day off to come here and share this moment with me, and I can't begin to explain how much I appreciate it. I'm not going to let you down."