The Road to Sailor of the Year

By Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (FMF/AW) Jonothan Tarkowski, 2012 Command assessment team leader, command financial specialist, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jonothan Tarkowski on patrol in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of HM1 Tarkowski)
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jonothan Tarkowski on patrol in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of HM1 Tarkowski)

As a young recruit exiting the bus at Great Lakes boot camp in May 1987, I never imagined to have the career or experiences in the Navy that I am so fortunate to have been a part of. I certainly never expected to be named as the 2012 Navy Medicine Sailor of the Year.  That honor has been a humbling experience and one that has introduced me to awesome leader’s who help mold the future of our Navy on a daily basis. 

I took a break from active duty in 1997 to fulfill a childhood dream of being a Police Officer and in 2006 I made the decision to return to active duty once again to serve my country. I was offered the opportunity to become a Navy corpsman and gratefully accepted.  I knew a little about the job from my step-father, a United States Marine who served in Vietnam, and the draw towards medicine comes from my mother who has spent 40 years as a civilian nurse back in Oklahoma.

From the first day after graduating Hospital Corpsman “A” School I was proud of the traditions and heritage of the Corps but taking care of the junior Sailors has always been my true passion. I can remember my first mentor,  Aviation ASW Operator 1st Class Robert Gordon, who took me under his wing and helped me during my first tour. I would have been lost without his guidance.  I see the future of our Department of Defense Medicine in the eyes of those young Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen that I serve with here at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda and know we are in good hands. 

Shortly after being selected as the Command Sailor of the Year I began to look more in-depth at the programs and reflecting back on how those policies are affecting our junior service members. Being able to sit down and keep them informed on changes in policy has helped me as I progressed to the National Capital Region Navy Medicine board. The candidates again were of the highest caliber. The Navy Medicine boards were intimidating because the winner would represent Navy Medicine for the entire US Navy.  As the board concluded for the day the candidates had the chance to tour the National Mall. I had the opportunity to get to know all of the fellow First Classes as we shared three hours walking around the Mall, learning that each of us have the same strong desire to see our juniors Sailors  succeed.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jonothan Tarkowski on patrol in Afghanistan (Photo courtesy of HM1 Tarkowski)
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jonothan Tarkowski on patrol in Afghanistan (Photo courtesy of HM1 Tarkowski)

After being announced as the Navy Medicine Sailor of the Year, an honor that still has not sunken in, it was back to work helping prepare our Sailor’s for upcoming command boards.  Deputy Hospital Corps Director, Hospital Corpsman, Master Chief Bradley McIntire, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) visited my command a few days later to inform me that I had been selected from 11 candidates across the fleet to participate in the Direct Report Naval Shore Activities (OPNAV) Sailor of the Year board scheduled the next day via video teleconference.

To prepare for each of the boards I have immersed myself studying everything from memorizing the Navy Ethos to learning Naval History to scouring the latest NAVADMINS for policy changes with a focus on how this effect will myself and more importantly the junior Sailors. 

The most nervous part of this whole process was when Chief Hospital Corpsman Stephen Pierle, my mentor, advised me to report to the Admiral’s office at 1500 a few days after the previous board concluded. As time passed I began to wonder if the meeting was to announce that I was not selected. With my wife standing anxiously in the Admiral’s office and surrounded by my mentors; Force Master Chief Boss, BUMED, announced via telephone that I had been selected and would now compete for the Chief of Naval Operations Shore Sailor of the Year in mid April. 

It has been a wonderful experience, one that I am humbled to be a part of and filled with opportunities to meet fellow First Classes and senior leadership who all share the desire to see our junior Sailors succeed.

Left to Right: Force Master Chief Sherman Boss, BUMED; Hospital Corpman 1st Class Trevor Wolfe, Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi, Texas; HM1 Cassandra Townsend, Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan; HM1 Jonathan Tarkowski, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Md.; HM1 Jonathon Birkle, Navy Medicine Training Support Center-Fort Sam Houston, Texas; HM1 Kenneth Matthews, BUMED, and Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, U.S. Navy Surgeon General. (Photo by Joshua Wick, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery)
Left to Right: Force Master Chief Sherman Boss, BUMED; Hospital Corpman 1st Class Trevor Wolfe, Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi, Texas; HM1 Cassandra Townsend, Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan; HM1 Jonathan Tarkowski, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Md.; HM1 Jonathon Birkle, Navy Medicine Training Support Center-Fort Sam Houston, Texas; HM1 Kenneth Matthews, BUMED, and Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, U.S. Navy Surgeon General. (Photo by Joshua Wick, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery)

*Editor’s note: Tarkowski, a native of Tulsa, Okla. serves as the leading petty officer for the cardiac telemetry care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md. He is responsible for leading more than 20 Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen in the daily operations of a 26-bed cardiac recovery inpatient ward. As lead, he ensures the accurate tracking of $2 million in medical equipment and oversees a supply budget of $250,000.