He joined the Coast Guard to fly. And fly he did. Vice Adm. John Currier piloted five Coast Guard and three Navy aircraft types, amassing 6,023 flight hours. He took to the skies, saving lives and protecting our nation, for 38 years.
Currier assumed duties as the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard in May 2012 and was relived from his duties at a change of watch ceremony held earlier this week. As vice commandant, Currier focused on reawakening the operational safety culture in the Coast Guard. Safety wasn’t just a catch phrase for Currier. It was a passion throughout his career spanning close to four decades.
Currier’s career started in August 1976 when he first signed up to serve. After graduating from Officer Candidate School, he was chosen for flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola for an intense yearlong program culminating in receiving the coveted “wings of gold.”
His first assignment was to fly the HH3F Pelican helicopter at Air Station Cape Cod during which time he participated in many rescues and missions, including the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. The pace of operations was rapid and Currier made aircraft commander within a year of arrival just as he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade.
“There were many talented and experienced aviators there at the time, some combat vets from Vietnam, others search and rescue veterans of Alaska,” recalled Currier. “It was a tough but productive tour during which I flew nearly 1,500 hours in three years…that’s a lot in peacetime.”
In March 1981, following in the footsteps of the talented aviators he flew alongside with at the cape, he transferred to Air Station Sitka, Alaska. Currier joined to fly and save lives so it comes as no surprise that his most visceral memory from his service was when, despite doing everything that could possibly be done, he couldn’t save a life.
After five days of intensive searching after an aircrew was lost off Cordova, Alaska, Currier says he will never forget being on the ramp when a Kodiak HH3F taxied into the air facility, rain pouring down and wind whipping around him.
“One look at the pilot through the cockpit glass told me everything that I needed to know,” recalled Currier. “We offloaded the remains of one of our fellow crewman after he had been in the water for five days. We placed him in a body bag and escorted his remains to the local mortuary. It was simply horrific, but it underscored for me the absolute requirement for safe and effective operations.”
“Also, that despite knowledge, skill and courage, there will be times when the Coast Guard will experience loss,” added Currier. “Ours is a business with significant operational risk. That is a primary factor in my passion for mission risk assessment, mitigation and professional flight operations.”
In 2001, after flying at air stations Traverse City, Mich., Patuxent River, Md., Astoria, Ore., and Detroit, Currier was assigned command of Air Station Miami. Completion of this tour marked the end of his flying days but he continued to champion operational safety as he rose up the ranks to vice commandant.
“We had been experiencing far too many mishaps with significant loss, all of which were avoidable,” said Currier. “Through an extensive team effort, we were able to change course regarding how we approached operations as a community which is yielding positive results.”
As Currier transitions out of his role as vice commandant, he hopes this culture of safety continues. Currier notes that safety is part of our service’s legacy and the nucleus of the Coast Guard’s operational readiness.
“The Coast Guard that we know today has been built on a foundation spanning over two centuries,” said Currier. “Young people should recognize what it means to be part of this team; it is simply the best. That said, to continue to be the first team, we must adhere to our core values. Honor, respect and devotion to duty should govern how we do our jobs, but more importantly, how we relate to each other.”
“In particular, mutual respect for one another is essential,” added Currier. “That’s where the saying, ‘there are no bystanders’ originates from. We depend on each other in high stress and life threatening mission situations; we must depend on each other in all ways. There should be no tolerance among peers for things like alcohol abuse or sexual assault. That behavior is not only morally wrong and often criminal in nature, but it is erosive to our very stock in trade…operational readiness.”
While flying was the focal point of Currier’s career, it was the people of the Coast Guard who were at the center of his heart.
“I joined the Coast Guard to fly helicopters and to be part of an organization with a good reputation as an operationally focused outlook,” said Currier. “I continued to serve because of the people and the missions.”
“It has been an honor and privilege to work with the thousands of terrific Coast Guard men and women who make us the organization that we are today,” said Currier. “Because of them I am retiring with unvarnished optimism for our future. Semper Paratus.”