NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Adversity is something that everyone has experienced. But with every step back, there is always a chance to leap forward. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Joseph Nicolas, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) air department’s flight deck leading petty officer, is a prime example of someone who not only overcame personal and professional adversity, but went on to excel. For his efforts, he was presented with the prestigious Navy and Marine Corps Association Leadership Award for 2018 on behalf of Commander, U.S. Naval Surface Forces.
Nicolas joined the Navy March 14, 2006. Born in Haiti, he moved to Puerto Rico to pursue an education in the medical field. After some time however, he decided to choose a different path. He had family in the military and made the decision to join the Navy. “I wanted to continue the legacy of my grandfather,” said Nicolas. “He was in the Haitian Army and that was a great inspiration for me.”
Nicolas, his wife Maria and two children, Reggiann, 11, and Reginald, 7, moved to Norfolk in 2015. Nicolas checked into Kearsarge and was ready to begin a successful tour; however, shortly following his arrival, he made a mistake and was held accountable. He went to captain’s mast and was reduced in rank, from a first class petty officer to a second class. He also took a pay hit and was restricted to the ship.
“I was so discouraged, because I felt like people didn’t see the potential that I had,” said Nicolas. “It was hard since I was a first class petty officer. I was held to a higher standard.”
The non-judicial punishment he received tarnished his professional reputation. But instead of letting it destroy him and his career, he decided to go a different route.
“When I was demoted I felt like it was wrong,” said Nicolas. “I understand people need to be held accountable for their actions, so I knew I had to prove them wrong. I always held my head up, no matter what. I did have people that believed in me and close friends. The biggest role was my wife. She’s given me so many motives to continue to push harder.”
Nicolas continually showed his dedication to his career and the Navy. His uniform was always squared away, he worked diligently at everything he set his mind to and never faltered even though he knew there were those who would judge him for getting in trouble.
“People would ask me how I kept my head up after that,” said Nicolas. “The questions didn’t bother me, because it made me feel good to uphold the military standards. I wanted to be the best I could be. I had a target and I kept it in my sights until I hit it. I haven’t lost focus of my target and will continue to shoot for it.”
After some time, he realized his efforts were paying off. Sailors would come to him for advice and his chain of command saw the good he was doing. He made first class again and was also awarded Kearsarge’s Sailor of the Year.
“I think I have been an inspiration to many Sailors,” said Nicolas. “I think I have also inspired myself. There are those around me that believe in me and that pushes me more. I have junior Sailors approach me looking for advice because they know I’ve been in their shoes and they can open up to me.”
On Dec. 13, 2019, Nicolas was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps Association (NMA) Leadership Award by his departmental leadership.
“This is a fantastic accolade,” said Cmdr. Frank Ingargiola, Kearsarge’s Air Department Head. “You are being recognized as a top leader in the Navy and we couldn’t ask for a better first class.”
After the award presentation Nicolas shared what the award meant to him and how any Sailor who, like him, may have made a mistake but can correct with guidance, motivation, and belief in themselves.
Nicolas said, “When people believe in you it plants a seed that grows into the need to give back to others. When you hit rock bottom, feel humiliated and set apart, it can be extremely emotional. They look at the whole picture and not the details of the background. It’s up to all of us to make sure we wipe away that picture and see the details in others and give back to those who need it.”
For more information on the Navy and Marine Corps Association Leadership Award, visit http://navymarineassociation.net/.
For more news from Expeditionary Strike Group 2, visit www.navy.mil/local/esg2/.