From Pasco farm girl to West Point. She’s the Tri-Cities’ other homegrown general

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joy Curriera
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joy Curriera Army Photo

Tri-Citians love to celebrate their homegrown general and former secretary of Defense, James N. Mattis.

But the retired U.S. Marine general isn’t the only general who calls the Tri-Cities home.

Last summer, Joy Curriera, formerly Ebberson, Pasco High School Class of 1986, was promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

The step came with a big new job. Curreira is operations director for the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management. Her boss is Lt. General Gwen Bingham.

Curriera, 51, oversees program requirements, strategies and policies for the 350,000 bases, installations and other sites the Army owns across the globe.

Her portfolio includes facilities standards, construction management, energy and asset management.

It’s a step away from the decades she spent focusing on human resources. Curriera said it is part of the Army’s practice of introducing general officers to how the Army runs at the top.

“This is my broadening,” she said.

Curriera shared her farm-to-fort story to encourage students to seize opportunities, even if they aren’t sure where they might lead.

Her own story is a perfect example. As a high school student in the mid-1980s, Curreira was a Pasco farm girl with “no inkling” her future lay with the Army.

“You never know all the branches, spokes and turns,” she said.

From Wenatchee to Pasco

Curriera was born in Wenatchee. Her father, Jim Ebberson, worked for BNSF Railway.

Ebberson block 1985
Pasco’s Joy Ebberson Curriera gets high above the net for a block during a 1985 game against the Kennewick Lions. Tri-City Herald file

The family moved to Pasco in her seventh-grade year, when her father retired and her parents bought an asparagus farm near Edwin Markham Elementary.

Pasco was a one-high school town in the 1980s and Curriera’s school path led her to the doors on 10th Avenue.

At Pasco High School, she excelled at academics and athletics. She was in the National Honor Society, various clubs and played sports, excelling at volleyball.

It was volleyball that set her on a path to the Army.

She played for Pasco and for a United States Volleyball Association club team, competing through regional, state and national competitions.

Her senior year, the Bulldogs placed third in state after battling back from an early loss through the losers bracket, according to the school yearbook.

Her energetic style of play drew attention.

In a 1984 photo in the Tri-City Herald, she’s diving to save a ball in a game the Bulldogs would lose to the Eisenhower High School Cadets.

Ebberson dive 1984
Pasco’s Joy Ebberson Curriera, left, and teammate Denise Rottinghaus dive to save the ball during a 1984 match against Eisenhower. Tri-City Herald file

A year later, the paper photographed her mid-air as she blocked a shot by a Kennewick High School opponent. The photo is titled “Joy of blocking.”

Recruited to West Point

It wasn’t surprising that college recruiters came calling. It was surprising to Curriera that the volleyball coach from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was one of recruiters who reached out.

Her family had no connection to the military beyond her grandfathers, who had served during World War II.

“I knew nothing about the military other than what you see on the news,” she said.

A visit to the West Point campus convinced her it was a challenge worth facing.

Proud of the ‘kids’

She was nominated by the coach and by then-U.S. Rep. Sid Morrison, a Mid-Columbia Republican who now chairs the Energy Northwest executive board.

Morrison hasn’t tracked Curriera’s career, but he was thrilled that one of his “kids” made it to the rank of general. He thinks Curriera may be the first of those he nominated.

“That’s spectacular,” he said.

Morrison said his office carefully vetted the students who asked for nominations to the various military academies, including using a committee of veterans to review their records.

“I occasionally come across some of these ‘kids.’ It just kind of validates the good feeling we had about nominating them,” he said.

Curriera, who credits her parents for her strong start, said she was grateful for the chance to attend a top-flight school and to relieve them of the cost of tuition.

150 women in class

She entered West Point in the fall of 1986, one of about 150 women in a field of 1,350 cadets who formed the 188th graduating class. Her future — and now former — husband was a fellow cadet.

The couple visited Pasco in 1988, after their sophomore year.

In an interview with the Herald, the couple described a heavy class load that would overwhelm most college students — seven classes per semester and a scripted day that typically began at 5 a.m. and didn’t end until 10 p.m.

By the end of their sophomore year, the couple estimated about 400 students had dropped out.

The summer of 1988 was pivotal for the class of 1990.

They were about to start their junior year, when West Point cadets commit to finishing their degrees and to serving at least five years in the military.

For Curriera, there was no question that she’d keep going.

“I’ve never quit anything in my life. I’ve come to the end of things, but I’ve never quit anything,” Curriera said.

She graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, which is standard for all cadets, and in educational psychology.

The combination set the stage for a career focused on the human resources management side of the military.

She was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps in Germany and married that year as well.

As her responsibilities grew, she moved to posts from Kentucky and Louisiana to Japan and South Korea, with multiple stops at the Pentagon and advanced degrees from the War College.

Army Garrison Japan is awarded the silver Army Communities of Excellence award June 24 during a small ceremony. The award was presented to Pasco native Col. Joy L. Curriera (second from left), the acting garrison commander. Also in the photo is Command Sgt. Maj. Katrina M. Najee, garrison command sergeant major; Debra D. Zedalis, IMCOM Pacific regional director; and Command Sgt. Maj. Phillip D. Pandy, IMCOM Pacific Regional command sergeant major; Kiyoshi Tokeshi, Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs

Balancing family, career

The Currieras planned a family in concert with their careers. The moment came in 2002 when she was up for her first Pentagon position.

She discussed her plans and desire to balance work and family with her future boss.

She joined the General Officer Management Office and her son was born in Bethesda.

Her daughter was born a few years later, when she was serving with the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command in Yongsan, South Korea.

Curriera said she always felt supported as she blended family and career.

“I’ve never had any issues,” she said.

Her son is a senior in high school and her daughter is a freshman. Neither is interested in the military, she said.

Seize opportunities

If there’s a lesson in her success, Curreira said it lies in the value of seizing opportunities, even the unexpected ones.

She encourages students who are interested in the military to consider seeking an appointment to one of the academies.

It’s not for everyone, but students with good grades and well-rounded backgrounds can be good candidates. Sports help too.

“You’ve kind of got to be an athlete, at least at West Point,” she said.

ROTC is another strong option for students. That is the avenue the Tri-Cities’ “other” general took. Richland’s Jim Mattis attended Central Washington University as a ROTC student before embarking on his Marine career.

Curriera said she hasn’t had a chance to meet Mattis but of course worked for him until his tenure as secretary of Defense ended in December.

“I have worked for him, but he probably doesn’t know it,” she said.

Currieras parents now are retired and live in Pasco. She said she visits and at one point imagined retiring to the farm where she grew up, which has been sold and parceled out.

In 2006, she and her now-former husband purchased the 20-acre site where she’d hoped her parents would build a house, overlooking the Columbia River, Hanford and Rattlesnake Mountain.

They intended to build a retirement home there.

With the passage of time and a divorce, she said it’s less clear that she’ll follow that path.

Online readers can hear more about Brig. Gen Curriera in Ever Forward, Never Backward, a two-part interview conducted by Angela Furubotten-LaRosee of AVEA Financial Planning, a Tri-City firm. Furubotten-LaRosee and Curriera have been friends since high school.

Part 1 is posted here at https://bit.ly/2V27jIO and Part 2 is posted here at https://bit.ly/2U4Emj0. The web address is aveafp.com

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.