Carrying on an ‘ancient’ tradition

Written by Lt. j.g. Katie Braynard

Rear Adm. John Korn passes on traditional flight gear to Vice Adm. Charles Ray during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station New Orleans. Ray relieved Korn as the Coast Guard's 25th Ancient Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Rear Adm. John Korn passes on traditional flight gear to Vice Adm. Charles Ray during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station New Orleans. Ray relieved Korn as the Coast Guard’s 25th Ancient Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

What is an ancient albatross?

While it may sound like an insult, it’s actually a coveted position among the Coast Guard’s aviation community.

An ancient albatross isn’t just any senior Coast Guard aviator – it’s an honor given to the longest serving Coast Guard aviator on active duty. The ceremonial title traces its roots to 1966, and has been held by senior ranking Coast Guard officers such as Retired Vice Adm. Vivien Crea and Retired Vice Adm. John Currier, both prior vice commandants of the Coast Guard.

For nearly one year, Rear Adm. John Korn, who currently serves as the commander of the 7th Coast Guard District, held the distinction at the service’s senior aviator, but passed along the honor to Vice Adm. Charles Ray in a ceremony held last week at Air Station New Orleans.

“It was an absolute honor for Air Station New Orleans to host the 25th Ancient Albatross change of watch with the commandant presiding as Vice Adm. Ray relieved Rear Adm. Korn,” said Cmdr. David Cooper, commanding officer of Air Station New Orleans. “Admiral Ray and Admiral Korn are both giants in Coast Guard aviation and it was a privilege for those standing the watch today to witness this tradition and hear their amazing contributions to Coast Guard aviation, which collectively covers nearly 60 years. It was a historical moment and everyone here was honored to be a part of it.”

During the ceremony, Korn also passed on his wings – the Coast Guard’s aviation insignia – to the junior most pilot in attendance, Ens. Adam Guarno.

Rear Adm. John Korn took his final flight at the change of watch ceremony held at Air Station New Orleans. Korn was relieved by Vice Adm. Charles Ray as the Coast Guard's 25th Ancient Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Rear Adm. John Korn took his final flight at the change of watch ceremony held at Air Station New Orleans. Korn was relieved by Vice Adm. Charles Ray as the Coast Guard’s 25th Ancient Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Guarno knew the moment was coming and was anxious the week leading up to the ceremony, continually checking and preparing his uniform for the exchange.

“As if the suspense wasn’t enough, Adm. Zukunft made an excellent speech, listing all the wondrous accomplishments Admiral Korn was responsible for throughout his career,” said Guarno. “Getting called up on stage to receive Admiral Korn’s wings, which he later told me he wore for 25 years, was such a surreal moment symbolizing the legacy of Coast Guard aviation being passed along from one generation to the next. It was an honor and I was humbled to have been part of the ceremony in such a way. This was truly a moment that will stick with me for the rest of my career.”

Korn then passed along traditional flight gear to Ray, signifying the end of his reign as the Coast Guard’s ancient albatross and allowing Ray to hold the distinction.

Vice Adm. Charles Ray wears traditional flight gear as part of the change of watch ceremony. Ray relieved Rear Adm. John Korn as the service's 25th Ancient Albatross at a ceremony held at Air Station New Orleans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Vice Adm. Charles Ray wears traditional flight gear as part of the change of watch ceremony. Ray relieved Rear Adm. John Korn as the service’s 25th Ancient Albatross at a ceremony held at Air Station New Orleans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Ray, who currently serves as the commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, has logged more than 5,000 flight hours throughout the course of his career. Most notably, he was part of a crew that flew eight different missions following the Coast Guard’s response to the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

“I’m honored and humbled to be named the Ancient Albatross for our service,” said Ray. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to represent Coast Guard aviation and the many Coast Guardsmen who take to the skies everyday to ensure our Nation’s safety, security and prosperity; it’s also humbling to be in the company of so many great Coast Guard aviators. I knew a helicopter could take you far, but I never imagined it would take me this far.”

Want to see highlights from the ceremony? Watch the video below!

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