Married to MAC (SW) James Bolibrzuch; children Kiara Briddell, 15; Kory Reid, 14; Arashaud Webb Jr., 10.
Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill. — After 12 years in the Navy, Navy Counselor 1st Class (SW/AW) Kylee Bolibrzuch says she’s learned one thing: It’s all about giving back — both in the service and out.
Bolibrzuch, the 2010 Navy Times Sailor of the Year, is command career counselor for 160 sailors here.
“It’s important young sailors know there’s someone who’s here for them, someone with their interests in mind,” Bolibrzuch said. “We get a lot of young sailors on limited duty, as well as pregnant females from the schools here. They’re usually not feeling too good about themselves and the Navy. They need a smiling face and someone to tell them it’s going to be OK, then guide them. That’s my job.”
In addition to counseling sailors on their careers through her job and as president of the first class petty officers association, she spends her off-duty hours coaching and tutoring at-risk youth in the Chicago area.
“She is what I call an everyday hero,” said Lt. Jeffrey Gray, who coordinates Navy outreach programs in the Chicago area. “She is extremely tireless and passionate about recruiting volunteers to do outreach.”
Last year, he said, Bolibrzuch got 15 sailors from Great Lakes to tutor and mentor elementary school children in the Woodlawn section of Chicago’s South Side a few times a month. She not only coordinated getting the volunteers through the training and clearance process to be allowed in the schools, but she also went through the training and tutored kids herself.
“She practices what she preaches — she doesn’t just recruit and send them on their way, she leads from out front,” Gray said. “When we had difficulty in getting the use of government vehicles for transportation, she organized caravans of sailors using their own vehicles to make the drive — that’s no small thing given the traffic in this area.”
Because of her work, Gray said, he plans to expand the Navy’s involvement in the program this fall. In addition to the inner-city work, Bolibrzuch also gets Great Lakes sailors to volunteer at schools near the base, Gray said.
She draws on her experiences both at work and in helping kids. Bolibrzuch, a native of Salisbury, Md., had two children when she joined the Navy at age 20; she’d tried college, but found it tough to manage a job, classes and her kids. She also struggled for years to find a job she loved that fit her skills.
“Like many of the sailors I counsel, my early days in the Navy were tough — and I thought hard about getting out many times,” she said.
Out of boot camp, she spent two weeks in airman apprentice training, then hit the fleet. She first learned how to be an aviation boatswain’s mate (fuels), wearing the distinctive purple shirt on the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman.
“I’d say that was the heart of my ‘I hate the Navy’ days,” she said.
But she had drive and investigated other jobs onboard the ship.
That early experience has added to her zeal as a career counselor, according to Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class Savannah Brown.
“I joined the Navy to be a [damage controlman] but got pregnant while in ‘A’ school,” Brown said “I was sure my career was over and I’d be getting out of the Navy — NC1 [Bolibrzuch] helped me turn that all around — she changed my whole attitude about the Navy just by showing me what was possible.”
Brown, now stationed at Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, plans to make the Navy a career.
“She showed me how she made being a mom and a sailor work in her life and then helped me find the rating that was just right for me,” Brown said. The path wasn’t always so clear for Bolibrzuch, though. She found the counselor rating after striking for operations specialist onboard Truman, rising to petty officer second class and then taking shore duty orders to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.
“Shore duty for OSs is just like sea duty. You stand watches and it’s a 24-hours-a-day operation,” she said. “We tracked hurricanes, and when that season was over, we tracked whales. There was always something to track.”
Then she discovered her true calling: helping sailors.
“I got assigned as the command’s assistant career counselor because we didn’t have an NC,” she said. “I helped a sailor put in their package for the [Seaman to Admiral-21 commissioning program], and I was hooked.”
One of the last E-5s allowed to convert into the NC rating, she went back to sea as the command career counselor for Sea Control Squadron 31 onboard the carrier John C. Stennis.
When her squadron decommissioned in 2008, she got orders to Great Lakes. “She has really come into her own in this job,” said Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Leon Walker, Naval Station Great Lakes’ senior enlisted sailor. “She is without a doubt the best first class petty officer out of the 22 I have in this command.”
Active both on base and in the community, she’s constantly on the go. Though she recently married — husband Chief Master-at-Arms (SW) James Bolibrzuch is in San Diego with the amphibious transport dock Cleveland — it’s her mother who helps make her career possible.
“She’s always been there for me and has really kept me focused on what I need to be doing,” Bolibrzuch said. “She took care of my children during my first cruise and moved in with me after that as my dependent — I couldn’t do what I do without her being there for me. She makes it all easier for me.”
As president of the naval station’s first class petty officer association, she not only coordinates volunteer efforts off base, she also spearheads efforts on base to help the command’s junior sailors succeed.
“We work with sailors on learning their [professional military knowledge] it’s roughly 50 percent of their advancement exam, and we do it as they are gearing up for each advancement cycle,” she said.
This, Walker said, has increased the command’s advancement percentages and also helped raise retention rates.
\“It’s all about options, and the Navy has given me a lot of options — you just have to put in the work,” she said.