ORANGE PARK – Naval Aircrewman Operator 1st Class Chris Popovic wasn’t at the Thrasher-Horne Center on Thursday, May 30, to accept his plaque as this year’s winner of the VyStar Credit Union Award for Military Excellence because he was away doing what he does best – defending the U.S.
Popovic was one of 16 soldiers honored at the annual Clay Chamber Military Appreciation Luncheon. His wife, Christina, accepted the award.
When reached by email, Popovic was overwhelmed by the recognition.
“This has been an incredible year in my career,” he said. “I know there were many deserving candidates submitted and to have been selected to receive the award is truly an honor.
“I want to say that I didn’t do any of it on my own. I wouldn’t be the sailor or person I am today without the love and support of my wife and family. Also, I have been blessed to have great leaders and mentors who put their trust in me and so many great Sailors that I’ve been privileged to work alongside with.
“It’s an honor, one I am truly grateful for. Thank you again!”
Petty Officer Popovic is from Fairview Park, Ohio. His first duty station was onboard USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63, forward deployment to Yokosuka, Japan.
In 2008, he joined VP-30 and trained to take his skills airborne. He joined VP-47 and deployed to Okinawa, Iraq, Sigonella and Djibouti.
He has two air medals, two Navy commendation medals, two Navy achievement medals, Iraqi Campaign medial with Bronze Star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
His commanding officer, Robert Wilkerson, put it best, saying: “Petty Officer Popovic is an exceptional sailor. He embodies every leadership trait required for achieving extraordinary accomplishments.”
According to VyStar, “The award for military excellence is presented annually to a service member that constantly demonstrates a high degree of excellence, professionalism and integrity in the performance of their duties, and who has proven their willingness to help others throughout our community.”
Rear Admiral Gary A. Mayes, Commander Navy Region Southeast, delivered the keynote address. He talked of the importance of protecting the interests of the U.S. on both land and sea, especially since the International Maritime Organization said more than 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea.
Other servicemen honored were: Aviation Ordnanceman First Class Andrew Marton; Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Sheena Murray, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Ezequiel Gonzalez. Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joshua Lazenby; Camp Blanding Joint Training Center Sgt. Robert Naja III, Staff Sgt. Taylor Peters; Sgt. 1st Class John Yulee and Sgt. 1st Class Edward Sears; Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Ramon Vargas; Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class John Blood; Electronics Technician 2nd Class Bryan Brayer; Yeoman 3rd Class Carol Cardenas, Naval Aircrewman Operator 1st Class Blake Delise, Florida Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Steven Eversole; and, Naval Aircrewman Tactical Helicopter 1st Class Scott Fetterhoff.