On Wednesday, Adm. Linda L. Fagan relieved U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz, becoming the first woman to take up the service’s top post.
President Joe Biden attended the historic event, continuing a tradition set by his predecessors.
“Throughout her decades of service, [Adm. Fagan] has demonstrated an exceptional skill, integrity, and commitment to our country. She upholds the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard,” said Biden in a keynote address. “There’s no one more qualified to lead the proud women and men of the Coast Guard, and she will also be the first woman to serve as Commandant of the Coast Guard — the first woman to lead any branch of the United States Armed Forces. And it’s about time.”
Biden said that Fagan’s career would provide an example for up-and-coming service members and show that women can attain high rank in the U.S. military. “Every little kid growing up today who dreams of serving their country will know that this is what an Admiral and a Service Chief of the United States Armed Forces looks like. I mean it sincerely. It matters,” he said.
Keeping with the Coast Guard tradition of wearing shoulder boards passed down from a senior officer, Adm. Fagan wore the shoulder boards of Adm. Owen Siler, the service’s 15th Commandant. Adm. Siler opened the Coast Guard Academy’s doors to women for the first time in 1975, five years before Fagan was admitted to the school.
“If it were not for [Adm.] Owen Siler’s courage, I would not be here today,” said Adm. Fagan. “I’m wearing his shoulder boards that he wore as commandant, just to acknowledge the long blue line.”
When Admiral Fagan commissioned in 1985, eight per cent of the ensigns in her graduating class were female. At the Coast Guard Academy today, about 40 per cent are female – higher than at the other federal service academies. By comparison, women make up 21 per cent of the corps of cadets at USMMA, 24 per cent at West Point, and 28 per cent at the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Adm. Fagan will lead the Coast Guard at a time when its role is expanding overseas. In addition to its traditional counternarcotics mission in U.S. 4th Fleet and its maritime security patrols in U.S. 5th Fleet, the service is looking westward across the Pacific. In the South Pacific, Coast Guard cutters are often the only American presence in far-flung but strategic island chains, which are becoming a key objective for China’s expansionist foreign policy.
“In addition, you see what’s happening in the Arctic,” Biden said. “The Arctic is going to change drastically and become . . . a place that is going to also potentially generate potential conflict.”
Credit: Maritime- Executive