A pair of Coasties credited with saving lives -- one after a ship caught fire and capsized and another following a devastating hurricane -- were promoted by the Coast Guard's top officer as he announced the launch of new programs to recognize strong leaders in the ranks.
Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard's commandant, promoted Nathan Newberg, a rescue swimmer, and Emily Ford, a storekeeper, to first-class petty officers on Thursday. Schultz was in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was giving a talk on the state of the Coast Guard.
"The next generation of Coast Guard men and women need strong leaders coming up through the ranks -- leaders who excel in the face of adversity and leaders who embody our core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty," Schultz said, before asking Newberg, who was in the audience, and Ford, who was watching the speech from the Bahamas, to stand.
Newberg helped save several people trapped in the Golden Ray cargo ship, which capsized off the coast of Georgia in September. A helicopter dropped him onto the overturned ship, and he rappelled down into the bridge to reach the captain, who was trapped there.
All two dozen aboard the ship were rescued, and survivors credit Newberg and the other Coast Guard members there with saving their lives.
Ford helped coordinate hundreds of helicopter rescue flights in the Bahamas that same month after Hurricane Dorian tore through the country. She's credited with helping save nearly 300 people in a week and carried out the mission as her own mom became gravely ill back home.
After assisting with the devastation in the Bahamas, Ford rushed home to care for her mother during her final days, according to a Coast Guard video. No matter the situation, the video stated, she continued to serve.
Their promotions, the Schultz, are part of new changes to the meritorious advancement program leaders made in response to feedback from Coast Guard members. The change was one of several new talent-management initiatives Schultz said will be crucial in recruiting and retaining the best Coasties for years to come.
"For the first time in our history, every district commander has the authority to select and meritoriously advance some of the most talented people in our service," he said.
Schultz said he is committed to fixing some of the Coast Guard's biggest personnel challenges by learning from studies the service is conducting. One is a study on minorities that will wrap up in June. The Coast Guard also last year conducted a study on women's retention issues.
Next month, the commandant said, the Coast Guard will launch a four-year diversity and inclusion action plan, "to provide leaders at every level with the skills to realize the full potential of our talented workforce."
There's also a "workforce 2030" action plan in the works to help the service meet future personnel readiness goals, he added, which is expected to be rolled out in the next year.
"Collectively, all of these talent management initiatives empower our people to pursue and achieve success, and in the process, optimize Coast Guard mission excellence," Schultz said.