JOINT BASE MDL, N.J. --
Leading over 44 employees in the field of aircraft maintenance, with experience from both a civilian company and military entity; service during multiple or numerous operations, five deployments or assignments in over five countries; the survivor of a helicopter crash; with countless lives impacted throughout his career and two children carrying on his legacy, Curtis Lee Thivierge—in his naturally even-tempered tone— “hopes [he] made an impact”.
For over 29 years of Air Force service with the 108th Wing and nearly seven years in the U.S. Army, Thivierge met adversity with integrity, noble service, and a standard of excellence, that not only refined a spirit of resilience but left a positive impression on all he met.
“It was always about the mission and caring for the people, nothing else,” assured Thivierge.
Now on his last day, Nov. 20, 2022, he simply states, “I don’t want a lot of fuss made. A handshake and a ‘job well done’ will suffice”.
Nevertheless, looking back on his career, others would say his farewell deserved much more.
A glimpse of his impact when leaving maintenance
On a summer afternoon, in 2015, Thivierge, and his wife, Heather, drove over to Master Sgt. Jerrod Minger’s house for their second barbeque of the day to “connect with the guys”.
After nearly 21 years with the 108th Maintenance Squadron, Thivierge received a quiet goodbye at request, as he ushered in a new career in safety. Yet, his former 108th colleagues did not feel it was enough.
“[Minger] told me I was heading over for a barbeque,” Thivierge smiles, recalling the words of his then-mentee. “But it was more than a barbecue. A group of my section members got together to celebrate me and my wife. One-by-one, they began to tell me what I meant to them...I really appreciated it.”
A modest man, Thivierge’s love for people began long before he joined the military.
Saving a brother’s life
At the early age of 13, Thivierge became a bone marrow donor to save the life of his older brother.
“My brother was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia [an auto-immune disease] and I was a perfect match to donate bone marrow,” said Thivierge. “He was my brother, so I wanted to help.”
Still, his brother passed away months after the transfusion. He unknowingly contracted a virus and was unable to heal.
“[It was] very traumatic,” remembers Thivierge, “It was hard for the family—but I looked ahead to live a life as best as I could.”
Upon graduation from high school Thivierge joined the U.S. Army.
Surviving a helicopter crash
Though tackling tragedy in the small dairy-farm community Thivierge grew up in, his view of life was well-rounded by his parents' and grandparents’ influence.
“They were my best friends,” said Thivierge fondly. “They taught me respect, work ethic, and right from wrong. They exposed me to so many things—I even raced horses in upstate New York when I was a kid.”
With such family support, Thivierge grew into what he later referred to as a “severe optimist”. He learned to value others above himself and embrace the call to help when needed, time and time again.
In 1987, now an Army solider, Thivierge, and a pilot were tasked with transporting newly built helicopters from Texas to Fort Ord, Calif., said Thivierge. They chose him because he had completed the mission when assigned to another unit.
“Normally, we would fly 100-200 ft. above the ground for about 10-14 days, stopping daily,” informed Thivierge. This time, however, unbeknownst to him, the pilot was dangerously dehydrated and lost consciousness while flying.
“I immediately grabbed the controls,” said Thivierge, “I had basic flight instruction and managed to land the helicopter with the disoriented pilot’s help.” The hard landing left the two stranded in the desert.
Thivierge then dragged the pilot to a small body of water close by. Though he could tell that the shallow water was contaminated because of a dead cow in it, he laid the overheated pilot in the water to lower his body temperature.
“By this point, my lips were blistering because of the heat,” Thivierge said. “We survived out there for 24 hours in over 100-degree temperatures before I could contact another plane by radio.” Later, a search and rescue team from Ft. Huachuca, Ariz. flew in and rescued them.
Unfailing kindness leads to opportunity
With a father initially serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, his dad, who he cites as his single inspiration for joining the military, later worked in construction to support a wife and six children in Hammond, N.Y.
“At the beginning of my Army days, the recruiter told me, ‘You’re too smart for infantry. You’re going to work on helicopters.” Since Thivierge’s dad was an infantryman, his first choice was to follow in his footsteps. However, the new role in maintenance would set him on a path to a long career in aviation.
Of the many opportunities he was afforded during his career, Thivierge affirms that one of his warmest memories was “the time [he] got a chance to work for Clint Eastwood’s former company, Magnum Aircraft, in Monterey, Calif.”
A soldier Thivierge mentored had left the Army and went to work for Eastwood’s company.
While there, he consistently reached out to Thivierge for guidance. “Afterwhile, I just said, look you have to get me a job there and I can help you—and so, he did.”
For about a year, Thivierge worked on helicopters for actor and Korean War veteran, Clint Eastwood, a job he was most proud of.
“Mr. Eastwood would sometimes walk through and check out the work we were doing,” Thivierge notes. “I had a picture of him on my toolbox, just in case the opportunity came to get his autograph for my sister-in-law, who was a huge fan.”
When that day came, Eastwood noticed the picture and asked Thivierge about it. “I didn’t want to bother him for an autograph,” Thivierge said. But he graciously signed the photo.
As one of the best jobs he ever had, Thivierge said, the experience opened his eyes to the possibility of a career in civilian aviation. “The employees there encouraged me to get my civilian airframe and powerplant license.”
“None of this was planned,” said Thivierge. “I just kept saying ‘yes’ to opportunities within my career,” an attitude that would lead the storied Airman on numerous adventures.
He was soon hired at the civilian company, Raytheon, where he would spend 13 years, concurrently, with his military career.
Witnessing the evolution of the Wing
¬After seven years of service with the U.S. Army’s chapter, Thivierge would later transition to the Air National Guard, 108th Wing, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where he would spend the remainder of his long career.
Here, Thivierge expanded his family within his personal life and as a spirited part of the 108th Wing.
“It’s the comradery,” Thivierge stated, as he described what motivated his passion for the Wing for so long. “I love the 108th and all we do for our country.”
After the monumental attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Thivierge decided to end his tenure at Raytheon, where he had garnered so much respect and responsibility.
“By this point, I was over all the company’s hubs in the Northeast,” said Thivierge. This accounted for nearly 100 employees. “After 9/11, I felt a deeper need for “family” in the organization, which I had experienced best at the 108th Wing. And so, in 2002, I went from a traditional status guardsman to a full-time technician.”
From 1992 to 2018, Thivierge held positions that included flightline crew chief, phase dock work leader, electric shop supervisor, and accessories supervisor, all within the field of maintenance. He took deployments in Azores, Oman, Qatar, and Paraguay.
With 13 years as a drill status Guardsman and later a permanent technician, Thivierge witnessed the construction of all the current hangers, saw the Wing’s fleet go from 21 planes to nine, and served under 11 wing commanders.
Yet, the mission remained the same, said Thivierge, for him and many others within his circle.
Of the many commanders he was led by, Thivierge admires, Brig. Gen. Wallace F. Pickard Jr., most.
"He always made sure if someone had a need, he addressed it,” Thivierge reminisces. Pickard created an open-door policy for his office. “He showed he cared for people first because if you don't care for your people, you can’t complete the mission, and everything stops."
Likewise, Thivierge emphasized that staying surrounded by positive people kept him encouraged and resilient throughout his years of service at the Wing. This included those who Thivierge notes, mentored him, while he mentored others.
Ending an illustrious career
Senior Master Sgt. Rogers, whom he has now worked with for eight years, sends him off with a heartfelt speech.
While Rogers says Thivierge will be missed, he explains that Thivierge, in his unique way, gave instructions on how to execute and manage tasks without him. “He was a great role model, but he demanded excellence.”
As Thivierge proudly recalls his time spent with Rogers, he notes that one of the 108th Safety office’s jobs is to “walk through” all buildings and conduct inspections to report any unsafe findings. “You never know what you’ll find around the Wing,” said Thivierge. “I knew I had to get Rogers trained and ready to lead once I was retired.”
“[Rogers] and I made many changes within the Wing,” began Thivierge. “We shut down the paint booth in Maintenance due to the fumes entering adjoining offices, which led to the paint booth being replaced. Railings were put on the LRS loading docks; stairs at the alert facility were replaced; we solved an electrical hazard at the deicer truck parking area; revamped all the safety programs within the Wing and managed to help train 144 supervisors and 44 unit safety representatives with a team of four members and a Wing of 24 buildings.”
“At one point I felt as though I was doing [too much],” Rogers quipped. “But he was preparing me for management—to not need him—and now that he’s retiring, I am confident that I can lead, this office, well.”
Following Rogers, the 108th Wing staff proudly presented Thivierge with a photo to represent his time spent at the Wing.
For over eight years as the safety manager in the 108th Safety office, Thivierge became known for sharing “great stories” from his past, both of comedy and wisdom, said Tech. Sgt. David Faralli, safety technician. He offered counsel to any and every Airman he encountered on how to seek [Veteran Affairs] entitlements as a veteran. He even dressed as Santa Claus every December to spread good cheer to the Airmen while on duty. “He will be missed.”
A lasting impact
Master Sgt. Jerrod Minger, the host of Thivierge’s fond 2015 farewell and former mentee from the unit, describes his account of Thivierge’s impact.
In 2006, Minger recalls his enlistment ending in his hometown of South Carolina with the Air Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing.
Since he wasn’t sure what his next career move would be, he began to apply to open positions around the country that would allow him to contribute his diverse skillset in aircraft maintenance, said Minger. Not knowing him, but recognizing what he could add to the unit, Thivierge hired him.
“This meant so much to me,” Minger explains. “I was 24 years old, coming from out-of-state and he took a chance on me. To hire me from a piece of paper, not knowing me, but giving me a chance, is the type of guy he is.”
“I wasn’t the only one either,” said Minger. “Several of the guys needed a job or somewhere to go for the holidays and [Thivierge] would always make sure his guys were taken care of—with that same demeanor too! He keeps a level head no matter what.”
Minger said that while he was grateful for the opportunity, “[Thivierge] didn’t stop there.”
When [Thivierge] decided to leave the 108th MXG, specifically as the accessories supervisor, and head to Safety, Minger said, “he recommended me for his old job”. As his successor, Minger was required to account for the large manning and resources of the maintenance group, and highlights that during his years serving in the strenuous position, Thivierge always gave him advice and “often allowed [him] to vent.”
In addition, Thivierge encouraged Minger to volunteer his time outside of work, leading him to eventually become a first sergeant.
To date, Minger has started a family and works, in the state of California, as the first sergeant of all recruiters in the Air Force Reserves. He relished the chance to applaud a friend and former teammate.
“It is an honor,” said Minger. “To get the chance to celebrate [Thivierge] is a pleasure. Guys like him like to stay in the background—behind the scenes—and let others get the recognition, but he deserves the spotlight. He’s a great guy, who’s done a lot for a lot of people.”
Service on the home front
To no surprise, Thivierge has helped to enlist “well over 100” Airmen into the 108th Wing, including two of his children.
His daughter, former Senior Airman, Chelsey Thivierge, served six years as a medical technician in the 108th Medical Group. While his son, Tech. Sgt. Nelson Thivierge, an aircrew flight equipment technician with the 108th Operations Support Squadron, still serves today.
Heather Thivierge, his wife, has served nearly 34 years on the home front, cites Thivierge. And now, as he retires, she can retire too.
“I told my wife, ‘She can choose wherever we go next, as long as it’s warm’—she’s in charge now,” jokes Thivierge.
As a former military brat herself, Heather says, she understood that she would face unique challenges while supporting a husband in the armed forces and so she did it without complaint.
“My father served for 20 years in the Army,” said Heather. “I graduated from high school in Germany and moved to California with my family. I saw how my mother handled everything, so [when I married Thivierge], I just managed.”
Thivierge confirms this when he notes, his wife of 33 years, has made a lot of sacrifices throughout his career. “She was the foundation of our family and took care of our household during my absences.”
Though Heather and Thivierge were never near any family, she learned to adapt to the state of New Jersey, by building a support system around her.
“Coming from California, where [Thivierge] and I first met, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Heather laments. But with the help of friends and neighbors, I learned to love New Jersey. It’s where I raised my kids.”
In addition, Heather states that for them, “absence made the heart grow fonder”.
“When we first started dating, he deployed to Panama. This was back in the day when there were no cell phones or direct communication. We would talk to each other through satellite and write letters back and forth. We really got to know each other that way. We got a chance to miss each other.”
As she reflects on Thivierge’s time served, Heather closes with admiration for the journey they began so long ago.
“I am just proud of him,” she said. “[Thivierge] is a loving and caring person. He helps everybody and has, quite literally, given the shirt off his back. Now that he is retiring, I feel he can relax and enjoy himself. He can have fun now.”
Thivierge notes that after a severe bout with COVID-19 in 2021, an ordeal that nearly claimed his life, Heather, supported him with attentive care that would eventually lead to his successful recovery.
As a result of the experience, his wife bought him a camper that, Thivierge decided, they would use to spend the immediate future traveling.
Over the last year, Thivierge has scoured the country to locate former supervisors and mentors, thanking them in person for their impact on his life, just as those he helped, did for him.
For over 36 years, Thivierge led, fought for, improved, and motivated his second family to be “excellent in all they do”.
And now, while riding off into the sunset, headed South, Thivierge can truly be proud of “a job well done.”