Last winter, Joshua Beemer, a Navy intelligence officer at Fort Gordon, could not help but think of his 4-year-old daughter as he watched 20 Afghan children learn the English alphabet.
Lilianna was starting pre-school in Evans the next fall. Many of the students in front of him inside the Cat in the Hat Language Arts Center at Bagram Airfield in northeast Afghanistan had little schooling, and those who had received an education had to walk two to three miles each day to get to class.
Beemer’s work with these students led to him being named the Navy Times 2013 Sailor of the Year.
He was inspired to help provide disadvantaged Afghan youth the same educational opportunities his daughter receives. Twice a week during his eight-month deployment, he took a break from his job as a linguistics expert to teach Afghans ages 6 to 14 basic math and conversational English.
When back on the clock, the petty officer first class deciphered messages to alert tactical fighters about homemade bombs and the location of American “allies” who might be planning to ambush U.S. forces.
“There is just a whole different level of poverty in Afghanistan,” Beemer said. “Children roughly the same age as our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews don’t have the tools they need to succeed. They needed my help.”
For his “demonstrated commitment to serving others,” Beemer – along with his wife, commander, and Fort Gordon colleagues – was rewarded with a trip to Washington that culminated with Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, presenting him with the award July 18.
“It was very humbling, but at the same time it kind of borders on embarrassing,” Beemer said. “With the U.S. nearing the end of two wars, thousands of other service members are accomplishing amazing things. I feel I am undeserving.”
Competition for the award was fierce, said Tony Lombardo, the managing editor of the weekly newspaper based in Springfield, Va.
He said Beemer’s “great sense of community” made him a leading candidate for the award, which the publication has presented since 2001 to an “unsung hero” in the active-duty or reserve fleets.
Beemer volunteers on the Columbia County Dive Rescue and Recovery team; serves on the Navy’s Fallen Comrade Honor Guard; and is the chairman of Fort Gordon’s SafeRide program, which provides transportation to sailors to prevent drunken-driving incidents.
“Not only has Josh made a lot of positive contributions to Navy intelligence, he has served his community – whether it is in Augusta or Afghanistan – with great respect and honor,” Lombardo said. “He genuinely cares about his family, friends and neighbors and it is evident in the way he acts around others on a daily basis.”
Beemer has worked at the Navy Information Operations Command at Fort Gordon since December 2010. He currently serves as the mission manager for the linguist cell, a unit of about 1,450 cryptology technicians that monitors pirates, hijacked ships and maritime crime worldwide.
Before his deployment, Beemer’s leadership helped his team rescue more than 200 hostages, free nine pirated vessels and detain 11 piracy suspects.
“He looks out for his junior sailors like no other first class,” Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Brianna Taylor told the Navy Times. “I wouldn’t have gotten (where I am today) without him.”
Beemer said he prides himself on mentoring sailors and young students.
Today, Beemer said he, his wife, a middle school teacher in Columbia County, and his daughter are living the good life.
“We really enjoyed the area,” he said. “It’s small-town charm meets big-city excitement. We hope to stay a while.”