Take the helm of the Coast Guard
Adm. Linda Fagan, the new chief of the Coast Guard and the first woman in American history to lead a military service, was, by her own admission, not the most impressive cadet when she arrived at the Guard Academy. coastal.
“When I went for the interview” – for his current position earlier this year with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks – “one of them asked, ‘Hey, have you ever thought that as a cadet you might be here interviewing to be a commander? I laughed. I was like, I was kind of a run-of-the-mill cadet, I was just a little average academically. … It was a means to an end to serve as an officer,” Fagan told The Hill in a recent interview.
Those assets culminated in his position as the 27th chief of the Coast Guard, a role formalized earlier this month at a change of command ceremony in Washington, DC.
President Biden, who spoke at the ceremony and swore Fagan in as commander, said that when Austin offered Fagan’s name as a recommendation for the job, he responded, “What what took you so long?”
Biden called Fagan “part of a generation of trailblazing women in strength.”
Fagan, who served as vice commander of the Coast Guard since last June, rose to the service’s highest post after a long and impressive career that saw her serve on all seven continents and become both the longest-serving active-duty marine security officer and first female four-star promotion.
At 16, she announced her intention to enter the Coastguard Academy, which she did in 1981, six years after the first female sailors were allowed there.
After commissioning in 1985 – one of 16 women to graduate from the academy that year – her first assignment was aboard the Polar Star, the nation’s only heavy icebreaker. This first deployment nearly didn’t happen when the ship’s executive officer was hesitant about Fagan being the only female on his crew.
She later commanded Coast Guard operations in the Pacific, as well as its Atlantic area, and worked as Deputy Director of Operations for US Northern Command Headquarters, among other high-level assignments.
Fagan takes over as head of the Coast Guard during a tumultuous time in history.
In the past two years alone, the service has worked on a wide range of missions, including the response to COVID-19, humanitarian assistance following natural disasters such as hurricanes, assisting other nations in their maritime security efforts and drug and fisheries law enforcement. The service also responded to migrants fleeing Cuba and Haiti and worked to ensure the safe passage of ships for global trade to avoid further disruptions to supply chains.
“We have never been so relevant [in] national security, homeland security,” Fagan said.
But all of these lines of effort require talent, a necessity emphasized in Fagan’s speech at the change of command ceremony, where she said her highest priority as commander “will be to transform our talent”.
Speaking to The Hill later, she said Coast Guard management had “an aggressive agenda ahead of us” and “all options are on the table” to position the organization for the future.
“We are not unique as a military service, all services compete for talent, [and] we compete with public and private companies,” she said. “If we don’t recruit enough members into the service, the advanced equipment we get won’t be able to carry out frontline missions.”
The Coast Guard is made up of approximately 42,000 active duty personnel, 7,000 reservists and 8,700 civilians, in addition to 21,000 auxiliary volunteers.
Although the Coast Guard’s demographics have changed significantly since entering the service, one figure that stands out from Fagan is: 40% of the incoming class at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, are women, but women only make up to 15 percent of the active duty force.
While each individual’s circumstances are different, often “it’s the family pressure at that middle level…with the rigid moves that are required that make it difficult for people to stay,” Fagan said.
She said management was “going into the details of the work” to try to address this, with a possibility of finding a way for staff to take time off from the Coast Guard somewhere in the middle of their careers, when many put the family first.
“Some of that flexibility will hopefully get people past that point of a year or two where they’re really challenged and put family first and then allow them to continue to serve,” said she declared.
“Policies that are good for retention of women are only good for retention at all levels,” including minorities as well, Fagan added.
The topic of being a parent while in the Coast Guard has come under national scrutiny after a former academy cadet, Isaak Olson, officially challenged the school’s policy barring parents from attend it. Olson filed a lawsuit in December against the school for expelling him after determining he had a child.
While the other four military service academies have removed their parental prohibitions – a measure passed in the last Defense Authorization Bill prohibited them – the Coast Guard Academy is under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense (DOD), making it unaffected by the new law.
Fagan said she was aware of this conversation and admitted there needed to be some discussion internally, but she doesn’t have a clear idea whether “we need to consider changing this.”
The DOD has also come under pressure on whether it will protect abortion access for servicewomen with the likelihood that the Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade – pressure that saw the Army and Air Force change policies to allow such an easier procedure.
When asked if the Coast Guard plans to do the same, Fagan said she hasn’t participated in that conversation yet, but expects it to be soon.
“As we recruit talent, retain talent, we generally seek to align with our DOD counterparts,” she said. “But, [it’s] just part of a political conversation that we just got into, and I don’t know where we’re going to get to.
For now, Fagan is focusing on the first whirlwind weeks as department head. Over the weekend, she traveled to Southeast Asia to attend the 2022 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, visiting Coast Guard units along the way.
“It’s really kind of a journey that takes place one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time and you get to the other end and all of a sudden you’re sitting in the office of the corner,” she said of turning 37. “When I walked in here on Thursday, it’s like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I haven’t fully internalized it yet.