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A ringing endorsement

July 03, 2006|By Amanda Pennington

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin H. Bell was enjoying himself at the agency's casual awards ceremony and barbecue Sunday afternoon when, to his surprise, he heard his name called.

Lt. Luke Byrd, Bell's commanding officer, had chosen him as Sailor of the Year for the Coast Guard cutter Narwhal. The Orange County and Newport Beach chapters of the Navy League sponsored the awards ceremony at the Coast Guard's Corona del Mar headquarters.

"Two words ? shocked and surprised," the Newport Beach resident said of his initial reaction. "I really didn't expect this in the least."

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Jordan Bell, 17, was proud of his big brother, but not exactly stunned by his award.

"I'm not surprised," said Jordan who hadn't been able to see big brother Justin for a couple of years because the family lives in New York. "He's a hard worker."

Byrd, 26, said he chose Bell, 25, because he routinely went above and beyond his call of duty, including his work on an extended operation in Baja during a counter drug patrol. Byrd said Bell's excellent attitude and his adherence to the Coast Guard core values made him a standout officer. Along with a certificate and a commendation, Bell received a $100 stipend for "fun stuff," as Orange County Navy League board member Phil Server and fellow volunteers said.

Justin Bell comes from a Coast Guard family. His father and older brother are also enlisted.

"I couldn't have done it without the crew of the Narwhal," Justin Bell said.

The Navy League also presented the crew with $200 for their morale fund and with what Byrd called a "shiny monster" of a barbecue grill, which will be used onboard the 87-foot cutter. Sunday's barbecue also served as a "thank you" from the league to the crew.

"It's pretty cool how people support us," said Coast Guard Cadet Russ Newkirk, 20, who recently came to live aboard the Narwhal for training. "It's cool just hanging out with the community."

Phil Server, a board member in the Orange County chapter, thought the reasons behind the event made throwing the barbecue a no-brainer.

"We're thanking the crew and their families for keeping us free and safe," Server said.

The Navy League ? an all civilian volunteer organization ? strives to support the nation's sea services, fundraising to bring their adopted crews items they need and "fun stuff," like fishing equipment and an onboard XM Satellite Radio system.

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