Adm. Linda Fagan capped her trailblazing lifetime of service in the United States Coast Guard by becoming the service’s 27th commandant and the first woman to lead any branch of the United States Armed Forces at a change-of-command ceremony today led by President Biden.
“The Secretary of Defense, when he sent me the name, I said, ‘What in the hell took you so long?'” Biden quipped at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, stressing that Fagan shows “young people entering service that we mean it when we say there are no doors — no doors closed to women.”
“I want to thank you, Admiral Fagan, for taking the helm during this critical moment and for all that you’ve done throughout your career to open the doors of opportunity just a little bit wider to allowing those following behind you a way through,” the president said. “…As we look to the years and the decades ahead, the Coast Guard is only going to play an increasingly prominent role in our homeland and our national security.”
Immediately following the change-of-command, Adm. Karl Schultz retired from the Coast Guard after 39 years of service and completing his four years as the 26th commandant. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas awarded Schultz the Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal.
“The men and women of the Coast Guard deserve all the credit for what we have accomplished,” said Schultz. “I’m humbled to have led the world’s best Coast Guard as commandant during the last four years, which presented some unique challenges. Our collective resolve, bias for action, unrivaled devotion to duty, true grit and dogged determination burnished the service’s brand and standing, both in the homeland and abroad.”
“The Coast Guard is a more ready, relevant, and responsive service thanks to the incredible leadership of Admiral Schultz,” said Fagan. “I thank Admiral Schultz and Mrs. Dawn Schultz for their selfless service over the last four years and wish them fair winds and following seas.”
Fagan was installed a year ago as the first woman to serve as vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and the first woman four-star admiral in the history of the service. She had been serving as Pacific Area commander at the time. Her 36-year Coast Guard career spans every continent and includes having served as executive assistant to the commandant and vice commandant and division chief of the Foreign and Offshore Compliance Office.
Fagan is a 1985 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and is the Coast Guard’s first-ever Gold Ancient Trident, the officer with the longest service record in marine safety. She was also the only woman of the Polar Star icebreaker crew from 1985 to 1987.
Fagan was nominated to the post in April and confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate in mid-May. Adm. Steven Poulin, the former Atlantic Area commander, succeeded Fagan as vice commandant.
“Admiral Fagan is a trailblazer,” Mayorkas said at the ceremony. “For more than 230 years, women have had an essential role in the United States Coast Guard and its predecessor services. Coast Guard women have helped shape the service and pioneered the role of women in the federal government and the nation.”
“Now the Coast Guard has its first woman commandant. Today is a historic day for the United States Coast Guard – a historic day for the United States. This is a day when the change, the charge, and privilege of leadership passes from one adored and revered admiral to another. It is a great day for the Schultz and Fagan families too. We do not serve alone; our loved ones serve with us. Dawn Schultz and John Fagan, thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”
Mayorkas added that “the future is bright and a reflection of the leaders here.”
“Ensign Eric Schultz heard the personal words of encouragement, strength, and pride from his father as he walked across the stage of the Coast Guard Academy last year,” he noted. “Lieutenant Aileen Fagan follows in her mother’s footsteps.”
Biden called Schultz’s tenure as commandant “a stellar capstone to your nearly four decades of outstanding service to the nation.”
Schultz began his four-year term on June, 1, 2018, and has made actions to advance readiness and ensure a diverse force with higher retention a linchpin of his tenure.
“Through numerous flag and operational assignments spanning coast to coast, he has devoted his career to the Coast Guard and made life better for its members and their families,” Mayorkas said. “As commandant, Admiral Schultz has led the Coast Guard through a unique and unprecedented period. In early 2019, the federal government was shut down and active-duty Coast Guard members were not paid. Through the shutdown, the Coast Guard continued to not only operate and fulfill its mission, but it shined. Members speak of that difficult time with admiration for, and adoration of, their commandant, who stood by them and provided them with the support they needed.”
“Throughout the global pandemic, the Coast Guard did not have the option of working from home,” the secretary continued. “At the outset of the pandemic, Admiral Schultz led Coasties as they brought cruise ship passengers and crew to safety. From that time forward, he has helped keep the Marine Transportation System going, which facilitates more than a quarter of our country’s gross domestic product and maintains 31 million jobs in American ports, harbors, and waterways.”
“Through the most intense and active Atlantic hurricane season on record, historic levels of migration, the urgent need to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, and the Afghan resettlement effort of Operation Allies Welcome, the Coast Guard has been there, always ready and always delivering.”
Mayorkas attributed this to “the Coast Guard’s enormous talent and agility, its proud tradition of service whenever and wherever needed, and the incredible leadership of Admiral Schultz.”
“While meeting these immense challenges, the commandant has spearheaded a more than 20 percent increase in the Coast Guard’s budget and ignited the largest shipbuilding effort since World War II,” he said. “Most of all, Admiral Schultz has focused steadfastly on the well-being of every member of the Coast Guard and the advancement of its core values as an American institution. Championing diversity, equity, and inclusion, overhauling the service’s civil rights policy, expanding mentorship and support programs — he has been there for the Coasties and the country they proudly serve.”
“He has led the Coast Guard to new heights during an extraordinary tenure. The service of the new officers commissioned on May 18, and the service of thousands of others whom he has recruited, mentored, inspired, and led, will be a tribute to his contributions and will build on his legacy.”