The passing of wings: An ‘ancient’ tradition

Ancient. It’s not normally something you’d want to be called. Unless of course, you are earning the title of a Coast Guard “ancient” – an honor given to a select group of experienced service members. Today, in a change of watch ceremony held at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., retired Vice Adm. John Currier passed the Ancient Albatross designation to Rear Adm. John Korn.

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Rear Adm. John H. Korn, commander of the Coast Guard 7th District, speaks during a Coast Guard ancient albatross change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., June 4, 2014. Korn relieved Vice Adm. John Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, during the event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Rear Adm. John H. Korn, commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, speaks during a Coast Guard ancient albatross change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., June 4, 2014. Korn relieved Vice Adm. John Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, during the event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Ancient. It’s not normally something you’d want to be called. Unless of course, you are earning the title of a Coast Guard “ancient” – an honor given to a select group of experienced service members.

The title of Ancient Albatross is one of those honors. Established in 1966, this ceremonial position is given to the longest serving Coast Guard aviator on active duty. Retired Vice Adm. John Currier, the former vice commandant of the service, held this title since 2011 and has logged more than 6,000 flight hours in both Coast Guard and Navy aircraft.

Today, in a change of watch ceremony held at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., Currier passed the Ancient Albatross designation to Rear Adm. John Korn.

“Congratulations to Rear Adm. Jake Korn as he becomes the Ancient Albatross,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft. “Rear Adm. Korn has been committed to excellence throughout his illustrious career and is most deserving of his new title as the Coast Guard’s most senior active-duty aviator.”

A Coast Guard Falcon jet is named in honor of the 23rd Ancient Albatross, Vice Adm. John Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
A Coast Guard Falcon jet is named in honor of the 23rd Ancient Albatross, Vice Adm. John Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“It’s an absolute honor and privilege for us to host Vice Adm. Currier’s Ancient Albatross change of watch ceremony,” said Cmdr. Sean Cross, commanding officer of Air Station Traverse City. “Vice Adm. Currier has been an icon of the aeronautical engineering and greater aviation communities since I joined the Coast Guard. We’re very glad that we could do something for a leader that has done so much for our aviation community and our service.”

As a Coast Guard city, Traverse City was a fitting choice for the ceremony. “Obviously, he discovered during his previous tour what a special community ‘Coast Guard City’ Traverse City is and we are excited that he is retiring in the area,” said Cross.

In a special part of the ceremony, Currier also passed on his wings, the Coast Guard’s aviation insignia, to the junior most pilot in attendance. This fortunate pilot was Lt. j.g. John Reid. “It was a privilege to simply attend and witness the Ancient Albatross change of watch ceremony today,” said Reid. “Receiving a set of wings from someone who has done so much for Coast Guard aviation over the past 36 years is beyond description. I hope that I can prove myself worthy to wear them as I embark on my career.”

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft and Vice Adm. John P. Currier salute during a Coast Guard ancient albatross change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Michigan, June 4, 2014. Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, previously served in Traverse City and is retiring in the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft and Vice Adm. John Currier salute during a Coast Guard ancient albatross change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Michigan, June 4, 2014. Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, previously served in Traverse City and is retiring in the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

In his new ceremonial position, Korn, the commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, plans to build on Currier’s legacy and continue the flag-level support of the aviation community. “I am excited about the opportunity to interact with aviators at all levels and promote professionalism, innovation and aviation as a career path,” said Korn.

His plans also include a more active engagement with the Pterodactyls, retired Coast Guard aviators.

Although Korn has a multitude of memories as a Coast Guard aviator, it was a memory shortly after becoming a co-pilot at Air Station Houston that remains most vivid.

The morning following the capsizing of a workboat and an all night search for the missing crew-member, Korn was assigned to continue the search with the air station’s executive officer, Cmdr. Glen Serotsky. Near the end of the third search of the day, the flight mechanic finally spotted the man in the water. “I think it was October and even though it was the Gulf, he was severely hypothermic. When brought into the cabin, he fell on the flight mech sobbing,” said Korn. “This was the first time I had participated in saving a life.”

It was also when he learned that for many, the vigilant watches stood by Coast Guard members might be their only chance for survival.

Vice Adm. John P. Currier lands a Coast Guard helicopter for the final time before being relieved as the ancient albatross by Rear Adm. John H. Korn, commander of the Coast Guard 7th District, during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., June 4, 2014. Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, previously served in Traverse City and is retiring in the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Vice Adm. John  Currier lands a Coast Guard helicopter for the final time before being relieved as the ancient albatross by Rear Adm. John H. Korn, commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station Traverse City, Mich., June 4, 2014. Currier, the 28th vice commandant of the Coast Guard, previously served in Traverse City and is retiring in the area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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