Written by Coast Guard Pacific Area with contributions from Cmdr. Anthony Russell.
Maintaining, sustaining and operating a 378-foot high endurance cutter, one of the Coast Guard’s most critical but also aged assets, is no simple task. The physical and technical challenges of the job are massive and endless. The job requires everything that the best, brightest and most determined Coast Guardsmen have just to ensure the unit is ready to safely and efficiently execute a wide range of missions.
For two years, beginning in July 2011, Chief Warrant Officer John Rice served as first lieutenant aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell where he led the largest and most diverse division with 50 crewmembers, including 36 young, inexperienced seamen. His tireless dedication and inspirational leadership drove them to meet every challenge thrown at them, and he continuously invested in their personal and professional development; encouraging, mentoring and challenging them to better themselves and their unit, now and for the future.
In recognition of his leadership, Rice was selected as the U. S. Navy League’s 2013 Captain David H. Jarvis Inspirational Leader of the Year.
“In every way he epitomizes what we look for in our leaders and is the gold standard for commitment, professionalism, leadership and character,” said Cmdr. Tony Russell, Boutwell’s former executive officer. “Notable as his tangible impacts were, one cannot truly appreciate the magnitude of his contributions without seeing the way he cares for, nurtures, trains and challenges this crew – in his division and beyond.”
As first lieutenant, Rice’s responsibilities were integral to every aspect of the cutter operations, including navigation and seamanship, small boat operations, flight operations, and emergency procedures.
One example of his leadership ability was initiating a focused and intense in-port training program for the unit’s over-the-horizon pursuit boat crews. The program proved essential to Boutwell’s success when its assigned helicopter broke down on two separate deployments, requiring the cutter to operate in the vast Eastern Pacific without typical air support. Despite this limitation, and as a testament to his pursuit crews’ proficiency, Boutwell interdicted or disrupted four smuggling attempts involving 4,700 pounds of drugs.
He was the only member on both the navigation and seamanship and damage control training teams, where he was instrumental in a “clean sweep” of the Tailored Ships Training Assessment, acing all five warfare areas, and earning the first Overall Operational Readiness “E” Award to a high endurance cutter in more than three years.
During his two years aboard, he oversaw the rehabilitation of an astounding 90 percent of the cutter’s external surfaces with a creative and carefully orchestrated combination of ship’s force and contractor efforts.
“I am truly honored and humbled to be included in the group of officers that were nominated for the Captain Jarvis Award,” said Rice. “When I found out that I was being presented with the award, the first thing that I thought of was that the crew of Boutwell deserved this as much as I do. It was only through our shared hard work and determination that we were able to accomplish all those things that I am being honored for.”
Despite the grueling pace of a high endurance cutter, Rice willingly gave of his own time to guide others to do and achieve more. He spearheaded three informational sessions which resulted in the enrollment of 50 crewmembers in the Thrift Savings Plan, helping to improve their financial planning. He was a key mentor in the Coast Guard’s largest afloat wardroom, where he was influential in the professional development of 15 junior officers, including helping two successfully screen for command afloat.
As the senior bosun aboard, his contagious passion and enthusiasm inspired 23 non-rated members to choose the boatswain’s mate rating for their career, a rare number from the high endurance cutter platform. Several graduated at the top of their “A” school class, a direct reflection of the knowledge and professional drive gained from Rice as their mentor.
“These are just some of the countless ways that he selflessly gave to the benefit of his shipmates,” said Russell. “Through his personal approach he accelerated and magnified the contributions and potential of everyone around him.”
Rice’s reputation as a leader among leaders extended well beyond Boutwell. In his first year aboard, he led the unit through nearly every assessment a high endurance cutter crew may experience, including ship-helo standardization, Cutter Assessment of Readiness and Training, TSTA and over-the-horizon boat standardization. On each occasion, the assessors praised him, not just for his personal performance and preparation, but the engaging attitude and demonstrated proficiency of all his subordinates.
While at the Chief Warrant Officer Professional Development Course at the Leadership Development Center he was selected by his peers as the distinguished graduate.
On July 26, Rice received the ultimate validation of his leadership abilities when he had the privilege of assuming command of Coast Guard Cutter Sea Devil.
“Bosun’s legacy on Boutwell will be felt for years to come, leaving the cutter in better condition and ready to serve reliably for several more years. Even more significant, he provided the service with a cadre of young, dedicated Coast Guardsmen who will actively emulate the example he set to the great benefit of the service and their shipmates,” said Russell. “Now, as a CO, I’m sure he will continue to serve excellently for the present while building leaders for the future.”