Home » News & Analysis » U.S. 7th Fleet Honors 36 USS Fitzgerald Sailors For Bravery, Damage Control Efforts

U.S. 7th Fleet Honors 36 USS Fitzgerald Sailors For Bravery, Damage Control Efforts

Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, awards the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal to 36 crew members of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) who distinguished themselves for their bravery and contributions to damage control efforts after a collision with a merchant vessel on June 17, 2017. US Navy photo.

The Navy awarded 36 USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) sailors for their bravery and successful damage-control efforts following a June 17 collision that killed seven of their shipmates.

In a ceremony today, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal to 36 Fitzgerald sailors and a Flag Letter of Commendation to the ship’s two ombudsmen for their support to families.

“Following the collision, which claimed the lives of seven Fitzgerald Sailors, the crew fought back against progressive flooding across 19 spaces for more than 16 consecutive hours,” according to a Navy news release.
“Facing constant peril from flooding, electrocution, structural damage and noxious fumes, these Sailors prevented further loss of life and ultimately saved the ship.”

The Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal is awarded to those who “distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement or meritorious service,” according to the release.

The citations that accompany each Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal outline the heroic actions taken after the collision that saved lives and kept the ship afloat. In one example provided to USNI News by U.S. 7th Fleet, Fire Controlman Second Class Joshua Tapia was awarded for his “heroic achievement while serving as a fire controlman aboard USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) on 17 June 2017. Petty Officer Tapia displayed extreme calm and poise as he assisted with the egress of personnel from Berthing Two following a collision at sea. With no regard to his own safety, he provided aid to his shipmates as they exited a scuttle to escape the in-rush of sea water into the berthing compartment. His brave actions saved the lives of at least two sailors. By his unswerving determination, profound bravery, and complete dedication to duty, Petty Officer Tapia reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

The citations for the two Flag Letters of Commendation outline actions taken in the chaotic aftermath of the collision.

In the letter to Kumi Bergstraser, Sawyer credits her “for outstanding performance as USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) Ombudsman, from January 2017 to October 2017. Kumi performed her demanding duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner. Demonstrating exceptional dedication, loyalty, and teamwork, she maintained the highest standards of professionalism and created a healthy sense of community by being a positive role model for the Fitzgerald crew and their families. During the night of 17 June 2017, she provided critical support and information to over 200 families, ensuring they were informed on the status of the ship and assisted in coordinating access to mental health services. She answered over 500 calls from family members, directing them to the support and assistance they needed. She worked tirelessly to ensure nearly 100 Sailors who had lost personal effects were able to reach their families, were supplied with provisions, and had a place to stay. Her unsurpassed professionalism, dedication, and initiative reflected credit upon her and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. It is with great pleasure that I commend Kumi for an outstanding job and extend to her the traditional Navy “Well Done.””

Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals and citations are staged for presentation to 36 Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) during an awards ceremony in Yokosuka, Japan. US Navy photo.

The Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal was awarded to:

Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Alexander R. Vaughn (Surface Warfare)

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Johsua E. Tapia (Surface Warfare)

Lt. j.g. Stephany M. Breau

Lt. j.g. Heather A. Bui

Ens. Joseph A. White

(Gold star in lieu of third award) Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Christopher Perez (Surface Warfare/Expeditionary Warfare)

(Gold star in lieu of second award) Chief Fire Controlman Travius L. Caldwell (Surface Warfare)

Chief Gunner’s Mate Jared B. Ogilvie (Surface Warfare/Expeditionary Warfare)

Damage Controlman 1st Class Emanuel Ascensio (Surface Warfare/Aviation Warfare)

Quartermaster 1st Class Carlos G. Clark (Surface Warfare)

Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class Lucas W. Giles (Surface Warfare)

Damage Controlman 2nd Class Sabria D. Greaves (Surface Warfare)

Machinery Repairman 2nd Class Darion L. Hunter (Surface Warfare)

Damage Controlman 2nd Class David J. Marnien (Surface Warfare)

Electronics Technician 2nd Class Joshua A. Mason (Surface Warfare)

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Sanerive J. Meredith (Surface Warfare)

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Jackson T. Schrimsher (Surface Warfare)

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Matthew H. Stawecki (Surface Warfare)

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Romel A. Wade (Surface Warfare)

Damage Controlman 2nd Class Rebekah Wilson (Surface Warfare)

Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Aaron R. Aurelio 

Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Danya A. Cribbs

Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Samuel A. Hill (Surface Warfare)

Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Nathan W. Lauritzen

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Joshua H. Rodriguez

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Louis B. Simeone (Surface Warfare)

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Ryan P. Sorensen

Hospitalman Gaylord M. Lawrence

Fireman Matthew J. Mugg

Fireman Tyler D. Perkey

Fireman James A. Strickland


The Flag Letter of Commendation was awarded to:

Garrett Zopfi 

Kumi Bergstraser

  • Duane

    Well done, Sailors! Your families and the families of your surviving shipmates should say thanks and be very proud.

  • DaSaint

    Job well done! We’re all proud of your successful implementation of your training, unselfish actions, and commitment to your shipmates.

  • Ed L

    Nice ceremony, why no dress uniforms? Guess they don’t do that anymore

    • Alex Andrite

      Uniforms come and go Ed, I do not have a clue to the new stuff. The Flag upon the coffin is another thing.
      U.S.N. – -’68-’72.
      Blue Water and Brown Water,

      • b2

        That is the most “yugly” uniform EVER invented. Unpressed, ill fitting sacks to cover ” bulk”. Supposedly it is finally going away I think and not a moment too soon…..

        • Pat Patterson

          Already being phased out!

      • Ed L

        The Navy still has Dress uniforms Summer and Winter. I have a niece in service, I was in for 21 years 72 to 93. When she asked me to go the the recruiting station last year with her. The Recruiter was in Dress Whites.

    • Pat Patterson

      Depends on the uniform of the day. I never wore dress blues in 32 years whenever I got an award.

      • Ed L

        That’s so sad. You never got to wear Your US Navy dress uniform. We also wore for import Quarterdeck watches, administration inspection/award ceremony, Manning the rail. Fleet Admiral change of command, whites or blues on shore duty. Do you also have metals that can’t be worn in public too

        • Pat Patterson

          To clarify. I’m a retired Medical Service Corps officer and wore my dress blues many times for uniform inspections, attending professional conferences, changes of command, etc. The Fleet by Naval tradition is far more formal than the medical side. I’ve worn every other uniform except for dress blues when receiving awards.

  • Mike Mulligan

    A really brave sailor is one who would have spoke up and prevented this preventable accident…

    • Alex Andrite

      once again, blah blah blah Mike.

  • Mike Mulligan

    Any of you sailors, if you can’t trust your command, you could have called or visited your state senator or congressperson to make a complaint, bring some documentation, to make a complaint. You can do it on the phone talking to their aids. Especially in these future times with troubles in the Navy. Explain your problems. Get them to write a letter to the Navy. You have tremendous power and credibility now. All the politicians are egging to help a service person. You are our heroes. Then, if another silly preventable collision and accident with many dead, after which you made a prior complaint on, then you go newspapers. You would have your conscience covered almost all the way. Believe me, you’d still feel guilty you couldn’t have stopped it on your own. You’d have your Admirals in the palm of your hands. You’d bring unimaginable changes to your ship, command and Navy.

    • Alex Andrite

      blah blah blah Mike.

  • Alex Andrite

    Doing their job.

    • JimNWise

      In an exemplary fashion under great duress.

  • Somebody, somewhere wasn’t doing their job. What ever happened to deck watches? We’ve come to completely rely on electronics and technology, which obviously is not infallible.

  • Western

    Well done and congratulations. Apparently we have a detailed timeline and record of actions for all those involved in damage control operations following the collision. Fine.
    Where is the detailed timeline and record of actions for the bridge watchstanders leading up to the collision? You must have it by now, you have had it for months. Where is it?

    • Pat Patterson

      A Board of Inquiry has probably not been held yet or is still meeting and info will not be released until they release their findings.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Saving the lives of two shipmates by leaving a watertight scuttle open is commendable. Leaving that scuttle open past the point it could be closed (due to pressure from the flood waters below) is not. From that point on, the open scuttle risked the lives of the entire crew. I do not fault the actions of this brave and quick-acting sailor. I do wonder, however, at the mixed signals being sent here by the Navy hierarchy on the importance of maintaining watertight integrity.