Coast Guard Admiral Becomes First Woman to Lead a US Military Branch

Coast Guard Admiral Linda Fagan smiles as she is introduced during her nomination hearing to be commandant of the Coast Guard.
Coast Guard Admiral Linda Fagan smiles as she is introduced during her nomination hearing to be commandant of the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Thursday, April 28, 2022, before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

The Senate voted unanimously late Wednesday to confirm Adm. Linda Fagan as the next commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, the first woman ever to lead a military service.

Fagan is slated to take the helm of the service June 1 in a ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"This is a historic moment for our country and for women in the armed services," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., during Fagan's confirmation hearing April 28. "It will be the first time that a woman will lead one of the six branches of the armed services. So I am hoping that your leadership also will lead to more progress on getting women recruited and retained in the Coast Guard."

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Fagan, a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, became the service's first female admiral last June when she assumed the duties of vice commandant, five years after the post became a four-star billet. She was the third woman to serve as vice commandant, following Vice Adms. Vivien Crea and Sally Brice-O'Hara.

During her confirmation hearing, the admiral said her highest priority is to change the way the Coast Guard "recruits, trains and retains our workforce," emphasizing the recruitment of people who reflect the diversity of the American public and then retaining them by providing for them and their families.

"My goal is the best talent we can recruit," said Fagan, the mother of two daughters, one of whom is a Coast Guard officer. "It's what makes us great as a service and an organization, and [I] will continue to focus on making sure that talent, to the best extent possible, reflects the diversity that we carry in society and [we are] committed again to the best talent to bring into the service.”

In addition to recruitment and retention, Fagan said she plans to build on the improvements made by the Coast Guard in the past several years, to include modernizing its fleet of boats, ships and aircraft; building shore infrastructure hardened against the effects of climate change; and adopting new technologies to improve training and operations.

"I'm committed to fielding an operationally relevant and ready force and will continue to focus on readiness and our ability to execute operationally," she said.

While Fagan will be the first woman to become a service chief, she will not be the first to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Coast Guard commandant, who heads the only branch of the armed forces housed outside the Department of Defense, is a de facto member of the panel and lacks full voting rights.

Last year, Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., sponsored a bill that would give the Coast Guard commandant full voting rights on the Joint Chiefs, but the legislation has not made it through the House Armed Services Committee.

During her nearly 40-year career, Fagan, a marine safety officer, worked more than 15 years as a marine inspector and served aboard the heavy icebreaker Polar Star.

Her command assignments include overseeing Sector New York and serving as captain of the Port of New York; leading the service's First District; and heading Coast Guard Pacific Area from 2018 to 2021, where she was responsible for all operations from the Rocky Mountains to Asia.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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