Sara Freeman was a sexual assault survivor, desperate to break free of a "bad relationship" in 2009. Taken by the way her sister's life turned around after joining the Navy, Freeman saw a way out. Freeman told the recruiter she wanted a job in which she could help others in their time of need.
Today, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (SW/AW) Freeman is a rising star who's doing just that aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, community. She is the 2015 Navy Times Sailor of the Year.
Freeman reported aboard the Eisenhower in late 2012 after a two-year stint in Japan. The Ike was wrapping up the first of two, back-to-back deployments that ran from June to December 2012, and February to July 2013. The Ballston Spa, N.Y., native said the cruise was career broadening and a confidence builder.
Since then, her efforts as the command pregnancy coordinator helped push women's health readiness to 89 percent. In addition, she helped gather 1,556 health assessments and nearly 4,000 immunizations, and helped qualify 12 CPR/Heartsaver Instructors and 54 students in basic life support, which contributed to a 99 percent individual medical readiness rating for the carrier, the highest medically ready status in the fleet. This was a key factor in the Ike earning the Blue "H" award with Gold Star for medical excellence and Blue "M" award for sustained medical readiness, officials said.
"If we were a basketball team, Freeman would be able to start in all five positions," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW/FMF) Gentry Lloyd, the medical department's leading chief petty officer. "Those awards are team awards, but you've got to have somebody you can depend on at any time to fill a role when someone isn't there. Not all corpsmen can do that. Petty Officer Freeman has been that person we could put in any position to make sure medical was successful."
Such efforts led Freeman to be named Ike's Medical Department Petty Officer of the Year. Eisenhower's command master chief had a different title — she called Freeman a "rock star" with a commitment that is uncommon among junior sailors.
With a ship full of sailors like Freeman, "I could rule the world," Command Master Chief (SW/AW/IUSS) Shay Langejans said.
"[Freeman] is one of the strongest, most well-rounded corpsmen that I have ever met," Langejans said. "When it comes to customer service and engaging our sailors, she is what we want every sailor to be like."
Saving a life
Department leaders lauded Freeman's "infectious positive attitude," commitment to team, compassionate care and downright excellence in every task.
"It takes a special person to dedicate their lives to be a corpsman, so they are naturally some very motivated individuals, but Petty Officer Freeman is a special individual who exceeds even that high standard that a corpsman brings to the fight," Cmdr. Nathan Almond, Ike's senior medical officer, said. Freeman's attributes and achievements are not common among sailors of her rank and tenure, the 19-year vet said.
Freeman's professionalism has even saved a life. Lloyd recalled the time a patient came to medical feeling lightheaded. That's fairly common, but Freeman's intuition led her to dig deeper. She coordinated an EKG and found abnormal rhythms.
"Come to find out, the patient was having a heart attack," Lloyd recalled. "We evacuated the patient, and it ultimately saved his life."
Friends and colleagues say selflessness extends to all parts of Freeman's life. Freeman has turned the personal trauma of sexual assault into a passion for helping others in need.
"When it happened to me, I didn't feel like I had anyone I could turn to," she said. "Not having anyone to turn to was excruciating. You feel like nobody cares, nobody wants to hear what happened, and that you really aren't worth anything. So I am very fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to help people who have been through the same thing, even if it is just to listen to them."
Freeman served as part of the carrier's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team and volunteers with sexual assault prevention efforts in the Hampton Roads community.
She also volunteers with Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia's community outreach and with the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to feed and clothe people who struggle with poverty, substance abuse and homelessness, and has lent a helping hand to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the Tidewater Region.
The 28-year-old attributes her success to strong leaders. They've made such an impact that she's changed her career plans. Freeman is working toward a bachelor's degree in nursing, but her priority is to stay Navy and become a chief so she can provide the same positive influence and guidance she has received.
"I am really focused on being a chief one day," she said. "The chiefs I had on the ship have completely changed my understanding of what chiefs are and what they are supposed to do for their sailors. I want to ... pass on my knowledge to people who come into the Navy and lead them along their way."
Freeman's tour on Ike ended in June. She is now learning the ropes at Field Medical Training Battalion East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and will report to a Virginia Beach clinic that serves Marine Forces Command later this summer.