It’s in those few seconds after a search and rescue alarm is sounded that rescue crews have time to grab their survival gear on their way out to a mission. This lifesaving gear is not only for the crew, but also for the lives they’re headed out to save. At Coast Guard units all along the coasts of the United States, it’s the job of the rescue and survival petty officer to ensure survival gear is in proper working conditions; and there’s no one better for the job than Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Custis at Station Cape May, N.J. “Our gear is our first defense when we go out,” said Chief Petty Officer Justin Hugus, Station Cape May’s engineer petty officer. “[Custis] ensures the safety of the crew and the reliance of the rescue gear onboard the unit is properly maintained and used correctly when we have search and rescue cases.” As the unit’s rescue and survival petty officer, Custis is responsible for the gear of 84 shipmates, both active and reserve. His hard work and attention to detail with 2,504 issued pieces of survival gear has resulted in him earning top scores for the past three Ready for Operations inspections at his unit. “Station rescue and survival petty officers should day work because the responsibility and the workload is so much, but he has maintained it for two years through all those inspections while also being one of the most qualified persons at the unit,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Dyamcek , who has Custis as his direct supervisor and experiences first hand on a daily basis his outstanding leadership. “He’s a strong leader and one of the best coxswains I’ve seen in my four years here.” Not only does Custis oversee the units rescue and survival gear, but he’s one of only two heavy weather coxswains, a boarding officer, a training petty officer and is in charge of a duty section, among many other tasks he takes pride in at the station.
“So instead of being a day worker, Custis has ran the rescue and survival program as well as a duty section, which is arduous in itself,” said Hugus. “Running a duty section, taking care of 26 shipmates, conducting training, security patrols, it’s just a tremendous feat.” “Custis genuinely cares for his shipmates,” said Chief Petty Officer Kimberly Murphy, Station Cape May’s executive petty officer. “His attention to detail and loyalty to the unit and rescue and survival program is outstanding. He holds one of the most important jobs at a small boat station.” And all of Custis’ hard work has paid off on other levels. While Hugus gives credit to the unit as a whole for earning the prestigious Sumner I. Kimball Award in 2011, he also acknowledged that it’s shipmates like Custis who are there to set an example and put forth that extra effort to score high on such a thorough and involved inspection of a unit. “He does an excellent job of looking out for his shipmates, addressing the concerns of his duty section, and getting timely results on those issues,” added Hugus. As the boatcrews of Cape May head out on the water, they remain that much more focused on the task at hand because of their training and confidence they have in their gear. Custis ensures the gear will aid crews in doing what their supposed to do; and that is to save lives.