It’s nice to earn a Sailor of the Year award, but winning it twice is even nicer.

Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher J. Cowlin, an aviation boatswain’s mate attached to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment Japan at Yokosuka Naval Base, recently was named one of three Sailors of the Year for Naval Surface Forces, Pacific. As a reservist, he received the same honor in 2000 from Naval Surface Forces, Atlantic Fleet.

Cowlin was tapped as the winner this year among Pacific shore-based commands. Each year a sea, shore and reserve sailor is selected.

“After I was called to active duty after Sept. 11, I decided I wanted to stay in the Navy on active duty, so here I am now,” he added. “I wanted to contribute to the war on terrorism. It was a great opportunity, and there was a shortage in my field.”

Vice Adm. Timothy LaFleur, the Pacific surface force’s commander, also presented the Sailor of the Year award for sea-based sailors to Chief Petty Officer (Select) Toby Ruiz, a signalman formerly of USS Higgins and now USS Benfold. The reserve Sailor of the Year is Chief Petty Officer (Select) John T. Smith Jr., of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 17 in Oak Harbor, Wash.

“When I talk with commanders from other foreign navies, they always ask me, ‘How does the United States hold the distinction of having the best navy in the world?’” remarked LaFleur at the announcement.

“I always say that it’s not just the ships and the planes,” he added in a Navy news report. “It’s sailors like all of you in this room — the best of the best.”

Before being activated, Cowlin, 42, taught Japanese and English as a Second Language at Daytona Beach Community College in Florida. In addition to graduating from Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the Yokosuka resident earned a masters of science degree from the State University of New York, and a specialist in education degree from Barry University, Miami.

“I have too many degrees. I spent an awful amount of time in college,” he said.

Cowlin was nominated for the award by his command but gives his colleagues much of the credit.

“I was just lucky to be working for a red-hot team,” he said.

Three potential winners in each category flew to San Diego to meet with LaFleur and compete during an interview process before the winners were selected.

“It’s a great honor for my team,” Cowlin said. “In EOD, we don’t do anything by ourselves. So, when anything like this happens, it is recognition for my team.”

Being named Sailor of the Year also has several benefits for the individual.

“I won all kinds of stuff,” Cowlin said. “I mean, I was shocked at the stuff coming in. It’s still coming in, and it’s incredible. The coolest thing is this Rio MP3 player that holds 400 albums.”

In the competition for overall Navy Sailor of the Year, he was eliminated at the Pacific Fleet level.

His EOD unit’s operational experience might have helped Cowlin win the theater honor. Without divulging particulars, he said the unit has participated in war on terrorism operations.

And some of those operational situations can be dangerous and physically demanding. But the middle-aged sailor — just married in January 2002 — says he’s holding up nicely, thank you.

“We get lots of chances to train. I think I can swim all right ... and I do run a little a slower. But still, I’m holding up OK. If you like what you do, you’d be surprised how long you can hang.

“I am one of the older guys, and when I retire in about 15 years, I’ll be the grandpappy,” he joked.

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