Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Clayton
With 31 years of military service, Boatswain's Mate Master Chief Petty Officer John Petrie, the commanding officer of the Hawaii-based Coast Guard Cutter Ahi, isn't ready to retire. After serving at numerous units, he still wants more.
Some Coast Guardsmen may call it experience; others call it "being salty."
Petrie started his career with the U.S. Army in 1974 when he was 18. He became a military policeman and was stationed at Fort Clayton near the Panama Canal. When his enlistment was complete after two years, he decided to explore other opportunities and moved back to Washington.
Two years later, perusing the classifieds in a newspaper, he noticed a very minute advertisement for the U.S. Coast Guard. While reading the advertisement, he thought back to his days as a child growing up in Long Island Sound, Conn. Embarking on a family jaunt in the harbor, he saw a Coast Guard cutter on patrol. He was amazed by the cutter and dreamed of driving a cutter of his own when he was older.
A few days after reading the advertisement, Petrie went into the nearby Coast
Guard recruiting office. He conversed with a recruiter to figure out what the Coast Guard had to offer him. The recruiter asked what interested him the most. Petrie gazed at him and pointed at a poster of a 44-foot motor life boat crashing through surf and said, "I want to do that!"
Petrie onboard CGC Sherman in 1984
"I've always wanted to be a public servant," said Petrie, who is known for getting quickly to the point and for not wasting words. "I knew I would be a cop or firefighter or something."
After trenching his way through prior-service boot camp in Alameda, Calif., in 1978, Petrie was sent to Mare Island Small Boat Station near Vallejo, Calif. There, he began to master his seamanship skills and become a fully qualified boatswain's mate by completing qualification standards. He had to learn boat handling and line splicing, among other tasks.
Petrie has served at many units, from servicing aids to navigation to being in command of numerous patrol boats. He was stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman, a 378-foot high endurance cutter in Alameda. While aboard the cutter, he conducted northern patrols to Alaska and helped direct fishery and law enforcement boardings to protect the marine environment. His Alaskan patrols also tasked him with standing by to aid any mariners in distress in the
unforgiving Bering Strait.
While aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kankakee, a 205-foot tug and barge in Memphis, Tenn., he learned to drive the biggest cutter in his career. He vividly remembers pulling his vehicle up to the cutter's pier for the first time and being awestruck by the intimidating size of the tug and barge.
"I can't do this!" Petrie recalls saying at the cutter's pier.
As time passed he conquered the challenge and became a coxswain navigator of the cutter.
He aided in Hurricane Andrew relief in 1992 while at a small boat station in Grand Isle, La. There, he willingly worked around the clock to help hurricane victims get to safety from the flooded areas. Petrie aided in a clean-up effort at a nearby school, which was heavily damaged by the storm's high winds.
Drugs seized by CGC Point Countess
Petrie's most memorable experience in the Coast Guard was while relocating the Coast Guard Cutter Point Countess, an 82-foot patrol boat, from Washington to Florida. The crew encountered a vessel and made a massive drug bust. They found a stash of pure cocaine hidden inside worth millions of dollars.
Petrie said he's enjoyed traveling around the country throughout his three-decades-plus career. He's seen damp swamps in Louisiana, tropical jungles in Hawaii and even gigantic icebergs along the Alaskan coast.
"I've been from Nome, Alaska, to the Panama Canal, and from Philadelphia to the Hawaiian Islands," said the weathered 52-year-old sailor. He said exploration is one of the reasons why he devotes himself to the Coast Guard.
After decades of Coast Guard service, Petrie said the best aspect about serving is teaching other people.
CGC Ahi underway in Hawaii
"As long as that person uses what I taught, then I've accomplished something," he said.
Petrie claims his proudest accomplishment as a teacher while in the Coast Guard is Jackie Zettles. She was a young seaman apprentice stuck in a rut while
Petrie was stationed as the command senior chief at the Aids to Navigation center in Philadelphia. Petrie took time every chance he could to discuss her future goals and how to accomplish them. He pushed her into a successful career path by helping her get qualified as a seaman and later helped guide her to become a public affairs specialist. She later advanced to a petty officer first class.
Petrie supervises 11 crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Ahi.
"He is an incredible teacher and a great boat driver; he likes to mentor junior members of the crew," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Joan Rizkallah, the Ahi's first lieutenant. "He taught me how to be a better leader."
After more than three decades of service (he marked his 31-year anniversary on March 13, 2008), Petrie reported to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in August. There, he will instruct cadets about seamanship and much, much more.