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Bangor Sailor Receives Strategic Systems Programs FY22 Sailor of the Year Award

11 October 2023

From Shelby Thompson

BANGOR, Wash. – Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) presented its fiscal year 2022 SSP Sailor of the Year Award to Master-at-Arms First Class Petty Officer Jerel Laya at Ort Field, Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) in August.
Laya is currently a leading petty officer, responsible for the tactical control and security of mission essential strategic weapons and Nuclear Weapons Security for his Company at Marine Corps Security Force Battalion (MCSFBn), Bangor, Marine Corps Security Force Regiment. He is responsible for 31 security posts providing Nuclear Weapons Security, and his exceptional efforts enhanced effectiveness and operational manning throughout the Battalion.

“Being named SSP Sailor of the Year meant more than just accomplishing professional achievements this last year,” said Laya. “It solidified the investment that my leaders have placed onto me. It validated the mentorship that I have given to my junior Sailors.”

Sailor of the Year candidates represent the highest performers of the entire SSP enterprise. The award is a pinnacle, a peak that few are selected to summit. For commanding officer of SWFPAC Captain Keith B. Fahlenkamp, there was no doubt that Laya was the correct choice.

“He consistently takes on the roles expected of a chief petty officer, and performs them at the level of a seasoned chief,” he said. “He unequivocally leads peers and junior Sailors, ensuring one hundred percent success in the command’s mission.”

Beyond the operational rigor of his role, Laya is a bold and innovative leader who is committed to providing his team with opportunities to advance their careers. He was responsible for the first ever Pacific Northwest Master-at-Arms Symposium, which brought together 19 guest speakers from across the Navy to inspire Sailors. The Symposium was a resounding success and was one of the largest mentorship events in Master-at-Arms rating history. Laya’s drive to create opportunities for Sailors has made a difference in the lives of countless service members.

“His mentorship extends beyond the command, having fleet-wide impact,” said Capt. Fahlenkamp.

Laya’s contributions directly supported SSP’s mission of executing Naval Nuclear Weapons Program Technical Authority for Department of the Navy nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems, as well as its regulatory oversight of the Navy Nuclear Deterrence Mission. SSP’s Masters-at-Arms play a crucial role in securing this mission–they are charged with guarding and defending our nation’s strategic nuclear assets. These Sailors work tirelessly with their Marine Corps partners, day-in and day-out, to ensure that site perimeters are maintained, and security holds fast.

Vice Admiral Johnny R. Wolfe, Jr, Director SSP, takes pride in the service of professional and determined leaders like Laya.

“Each Master-at-Arms is crucial to the security of the United States,” he said. “I thank each one of them, and I am proud to see the results of their hard work and dedicated service at our Strategic Weapons Facilities.”

The award also held a deeper significance for Laya and his family.

“I went through this award process during the unexpected loss of my daughter, Jerilynn Grace Laya,” he said. “I had to remain resilient and have the courage to move forward. This award brings meaning to the immense support of my loving wife and daughter.”

As the award selection timeline closed in, Master Chief Jon “Gabe” Miller, Command Master Chief, SSP activated a support structure for Laya and his family, postponing Laya’s board review to give them time to be together.

“There was no dissention among the SSP Sailor of the Year board members that we’d alter timelines to best support Laya and his family. As leaders we have to delivery advocacy to Sailors when they need it, not just when it fits within a prescribed timeline,” said Miller.

After receiving the award, Laya highlighted the impact that his team and command had on him during this time.

“My faith, my command leadership, the Sailors I have the privilege to lead and work with – this award is for them, and because of them,” he said.

Strategic Systems Programs is the Navy command that provides cradle-to-grave lifecycle support for the sea-based leg of the nation’s nuclear triad. This includes training, systems, equipment, facilities and personnel responsible for ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the nation’s Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Trident II (D5LE) Strategic Weapon System.

SLBMs make up the majority–approximately 70 percent–of the U.S.’s deployed strategic nuclear deterrent Triad. The SLBM is the most survivable, provides persistent presence, and allows flexible concept of operations.

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