EASTON — A Coast Guard admiral is settling in to a peaceful life in Wittman after his recent retirement from the service.
Rear Admiral Doug Fears retired last week in Washington, DC, in the church he and his family attended when they lived in Capitol Hill, in a ceremony attended by family, friends and colleagues, including high-ranking military and political leaders.
Fears, a native of the Eastern Shore with family roots in Talbot (his maternal family is from Oxford and Easton), grew up in West Ocean City. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1982 to learn how to repair marine electronics so he could join his family’s boat repair business. His journey took him instead to the Coast Guard Academy, rising through the officer ranks and working directly for leadership at the highest levels, including in the White House, to ensure the nation remains safe.
In a recent interview, Fears talked about his experiences and about his passion for promoting national and homeland security.
Fears first recalled his last duty station as the Director for Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, and he said his time there was fitting in light of his career “chasing drug runners.” In retrospect, he said his final role was a culmination of his experience fighting the drug trade on tactical and operational levels, and featured specific accomplishments like his staff facilitating the seizure of 300 metric tons of cocaine. Fears said it was his version of the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” a comparison he made with a chuckle.
The accomplishment he was most proud of was fostering an increase in the quality and productivity of the relationship with the foreign liaison officers. The 22 liaisons from 20 countries became an even more integral part (60% overall) of the task force’s ability to monitor and eventually help interdict drug transshipments originating from foreign soil.
The admiral described how the success of partner nations in the combined effort against drugs was a benefit and a victory beyond the metrics of a certain amount of drugs seized or a certain number of criminals arrested or prosecuted, but also a strengthening of the sovereignty of those nations and the corresponding increase in the ability respective governments to uphold the rule of law.
Promoting the success of those partner nations followed the same formula Fears used to tackle challenges and cultivate those under his command throughout his career — mastering the basics.
Fears said the mission of fighting the illegal drug trade, or other elements of the vital overall goal of national security and the success of the rule of law home and abroad, can best be described with the acronym VUCA: vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The reality VUCA means pursuit of these crucial objectives isn’t easy; in fact, Fears said the problem solving required today was harder than ever. The effort to succeed should go on despite that difficulty, according to Fears.
“People are looking for a silver bullet, when they really should roll up their sleeves, get in the mosh pit, and master the basics until you’re satisfied, which is hopefully never,” he said.
Fears said the nature of maintaining national security and enforcing the law means that threats or challenges may be overcome or mitigated, but the struggle isn’t over. A kingpin is arrested, another one (or more) will come to power. Fears said that requires a mindset of “enduring enforcement,” of robust and continual participation in the cycle of justice in the case of law enforcement, or the continual anticipation, assessment and mitigation of threats necessitated by the broader national security community. This “persistent approach to doing the mission,” in the words of Fears was like lifting weights for fitness — an activity that requires consistency for improvement and success, while also offering increased capabilities.
Fears is taking “a deep breath,” as he begins his retirement. He weighing a couple of opportunities to contribute to the same mission of national security in new ways as a civilian.
Fears described his retirement as “a little bittersweet — it’s what I’ve done my whole professional career.” Despite the poignancy of turning the page to a new chapter, the retirement was a “fantastic day,” as Fears and his family were surrounded by old friends.
He and his wife purchased a home in Wittman about five years ago, and the allure of Talbot living has been an undercurrent for Fears. “It’s been whispering to me, ‘Come home,’” he said.
Fears is the son of Carolie Valliant Patton of Oxford, and the late Edward Fears; and the grandson of the late and Jeremiah Valliant of Oxford. Fears is married to the former Sara Kathleen Drew, now Kate Drew Fears, of West Ocean City. They have two sons, Joshua Valliant and Noah Matthew.
Fears recalled, as a boy with his grandfather, Jeremiah Valliant, preparing trot lines by baiting them with eel, then piloting the work boat to the right place in the Tred Avon River, a cycle that could in those days yield a bushel of blue crabs in a couple of passes. He credited his grandfather with his interest in the Coast Guard.
Valliant enlisted in the Coast Guard at the start of World War II, and was promoted to E-6 because, as a waterman, he already knew how to handle a boat. He ended his career as commander of the Coast Guard Station at Little Creek, Virginia, and served for 50 years in the local Coast Guard Auxiliary.
In addition to crabbing, Fears said his grandfather taught him how to fish, tong for oysters, sail, and drive a boat on a magnetic compass heading — all things that may come in handy now that he has retired.
Mike Detmer is a staff writer for the Star Democrat based in Maryland. You can reach him at email@example.com.