Nicholson wins Chamberlain Award; to accept honor Thursday in Brunswick
BRUNSWICK — Dan Nicholson of Lisbon, the former command master chief of Brunswick Naval Air Station who lowered the flag at the base decommissioning ceremony in May, will receive the 2011 Joshua L. Chamberlain Award on Thursday evening at the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber’s annual dinner at Bowdoin College.
Nicholson, 48, served in the highest enlisted leadership position at the base until it closed on May 31, 2011. He previously served as command master chief for his wing and then for the VP-10 Squadron.
Capt. William Fitzgerald, the last commanding officer at BNAS — who won the Chamberlain Award in 2010 — nominated Nicholson for his impact on military-community relations and his “invaluable” contribution to the base and the community.
The Chamberlain Award has been given yearly since 1976 to an individual “who, through his or her outstanding dedication and service toward promoting the best possible military-community relationship within the Mid-coast area, deserved to be singled out,” according to the chamber. “The individual nominated should be one whose activities have served to build upon the close relationship and understanding existing between the military and civilian components of the greater Bath-Brunswick-Topsham region.”
This morning, Nicholson said he hadn’t spoken to Fitzgerald yet about the award, but guessed that he was nominated “for just taking the base to the very end.”
On May 31, 2011, Nicholson lowered the American flag during a decommissioning ceremony at Brunswick Naval Air Station. He then handed the folded flag to Fitzgerald, who handed it back.
“It was sad, seeing the base go,” Nicholson said today. “But I think we did it the right way, and that was important to me.”
The year prior to the closure “was hard because a lot of people didn’t want it to close, and then so many people and organizations that counted on help and volunteerism from the sailors — they never stopped calling,” Nicholson said. “I was fielding phone calls until a couple of weeks before it closed. The 20 or 30 or so of us who remained for the last, well, almost a year, tried to march in the parades and do all the funeral details and the color guards that we possibly could. That was our way of thanking the community for everything they did for us.”
“I don’t think the award was for me,” he continued. “I think it was for sailors who stayed behind for that last year who tried to support the community ’til they opened the gates.”
In his nomination letter, Fitzgerald pointed to Nicholson’s volunteer work as a Lisbon firefighter, elsewhere in that community and in Brunswick, and at the Togus VA Center.
Nicholson’s impact on military-community relations “has been significant for many, many years,” he wrote.
Fitzgerald continued: “Bottom line, Master Chief Nicholson epitomizes what the Joshua Chamberlain Award is all about. He has a record of sustained involvement in the community and in fostering military-community relations. And he has done this without fanfare and self-aggrandizing. However, those who serve with him know the invaluable contribution he has made to the base and the community. He is most deserving of the Joshua Chamberlain Award.”
In October, Nicholson retired from the Navy after 30 years, and was hired by the Navy as a contractor to run the SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) school, which trains Navy sailors and Marines “at high risk of capture” to stay alive while lost in hostile territories, keep away from pursuing enemies and withstand interrogation.
The program, previously based at BNAS, is now operated out of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. Nicholson spoke to The Times Record this morning as he drove to Redington for a weekend of training.
He and his family still live in Lisbon Falls, and Nicholson commutes several days a week to Kittery, along with “quite a few” former BNAS personnel.
“If you look at the car pool lanes and parking lots, they all have the former NAS Brunswick stickers on them. There are a lot of (former BNAS) families still up here,” he said.
Nicholson and his wife arrived in Maine in 2003, when he was command master chief of his wing. They stayed, he said, because “this was certainly the best place my wife and I have been stationed: The first place where we felt like we were home.”
Nicholson was selected by the SMMC board of directors and the Military Community Council, including Capt. Robert Crowe, commanding officer of Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Bath, and previous Chamberlain Award winners.
Nicholson said he’s honored to have been nominated for the award, particularly because a previous winner, Roger Dumont — also a former master chief at BNAS — “is my hero.”
“My wife and I are excited to see some old faces,” Nicholson said of Thursday’s ceremony.