PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) — Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 1st Class John Kurack was named the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River 2017 Senior Sailor of the Year due to his deckplate leadership and commitment to excellence for both Pax River and the Search and Rescue (SAR) division.

As the Leading Petty Officer for SAR, Kurack leads and mentors 17 Sailors in the scheduling and coordination of flight operations and the prioritization of training requirements. The SAR division’s mission is to provide search and rescue in support of research, development, test, and evaluation sorties for Joint Strike Fighter, CH-53K, P-8 and V-22.

“Petty officer Kurack is a phenomenal and dynamic leader,” said Chief Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) Jason Boutwell, the SAR aircrew leading chief petty officer. “Who maintains the highest standards for himself and expects nothing less of his Sailors.”

Onboard Pax River since August 2015, Kurack joined the Navy in 2001 at 17 years old.

“I had my first child at 16,” he explained. “I was going to school full time during the day and working at night. I knew I couldn’t go to college right away and support my son, so I decided to join the Navy. He actually just turned 18 and goes to school at St. Mary’s College.”

As noted in his written nomination package, Kurack led his division through two major SAR and naval air training and operating procedures standardization (NATOPS) inspections and evaluations, verifying that annual and quarterly training and currency requirements were met, as well as the execution of practical training. His diligence directly resulted in his division receiving the highest grade of “On Track” and testing above fleet averages in all categories for the annual Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic (CNAL) SAR Evaluation.

Kurack’s favorite part of the job is training the Sailors below him and seeing them succeed.

“My greatest memory here at Pax was being on a Medivac and seeing one of my junior guys perform lifesaving techniques that we had trained him to do,” he added.

As an extraordinary mentor, his inspirational leadership and commitment to Sailor development yielded selections of a Senior Sailor of the Quarter and two Blue Jackets of the Quarter. His Sailors earned one spot Navy Commendation Medal and seven Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, two spot Sikorsky Rescue Awards, four Naval Aircrew Warfare Specialist designations, 11 professional qualifications, and advancements of seven Sailors.

In addition, he ensured 100 percent completion of all periodic Career Development Boards and 100 percent accountability of monthly Career Waypoint applications. An advocate for off-duty education, he also increased his Sailors’ enrollment in college courses by 75 percent.

Kurack’s collateral duties include serving as the assistant command DAPA, division Mentorship Coordinator, and a Command Fitness Leader. He is heavily involved in the installation-wide CPO 365 program and is a member of the First Class Petty Officer Association.

Originally an Operations Specialist for eight years, Kurack eventually decided he needed a change.

“While serving in Iraq, I became friends with a couple Rescue Swimmers who convinced me that it was the greatest job in the Navy,” he said.

Outside the fenceline, he dedicated 19 hours as a mentor to young adults from local area high schools who are considering careers in the Navy and he committed 45 hours to the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department in Lexington Park.

Appreciative of the recognition he received, Kurack wanted to express his own appreciation for his wife, Stephanie.

“She always pushes me to be the best I can be,” he said. “The Navy has taken us a lot of places, and I can always count on her being right there by my side.”