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Adm. Linda Fagan becomes first woman to lead U.S. Coast Guard

Adm. Linda Fagan attends the U.S. Coast Guard change of command ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters on June 1. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
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Adm. Linda Fagan was sworn in Wednesday by President Biden as the 27th commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, becoming the first woman to lead the service.

With her appointment, Fagan also becomes the first female service chief in American history.

At a change-of-command ceremony at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, Biden noted the history-making nature of Fagan’s promotion.

“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,” Biden said. “And it’s about time.”

Fagan thanked her parents for “their courage to allow me to begin this journey 41 years ago.”

“I was 16. I announced my intent to attend the academy, full of righteousness as only a 16-year-old can be. And like all good parents, they said, ‘Oh, she’ll outgrow it,' ” Fagan said, drawing laughter from the crowd of about 1,800 uniformed Coast Guard members and guests.

“I did not,” she added.

Fagan, 58, succeeds Adm. Karl L. Schultz, who is retiring.

Fagan was previously vice commandant, a role she assumed last summer. Her decades of Coast Guard service include a tour on the heavy icebreaker Polar Star — the only woman aboard the ship — as well as assignments on every continent. She is also the Coast Guard’s first Gold Ancient Trident, which means she is the officer with the longest service record in the marine safety field.

In her remarks Wednesday, Fagan gave a symbolic nod to Adm. Owen W. Siler, the former Coast Guard commandant who played a key role in integrating women into the service beginning in the 1970s. She told the crowd that the shoulder boards she was wearing, which display an officer’s rank, were the same ones Siler wore while leading the service.

“If it was not for Owen Siler’s courage, I do not believe I would be standing here today,” Fagan said.

Biden’s nomination of Fagan in April followed the president’s promise to diversify the leadership ranks of the government and his administration. He noted Wednesday that Fagan joined the Coast Guard only five years after the first women graduated from the academy.

Women comprised 8 percent of Fagan’s Coast Guard Academy graduating class in 1985, Biden said. By contrast, about 40 percent of the academy’s cadets today are women.

“We need to ensure women have an opportunity to succeed and thrive throughout their professional careers, and that means providing support and resources so women can compete fairly and fully for promotions and make sure women are not penalized in their career for having children,” Biden said.It also means creating an environment where every member of the armed forces feels safe in the ranks — including from sexual assault and harassment — where their contributions are respected.”

During an event last year for a local chapter of the Coast Guard’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, Fagan appeared with her daughter, Lt. Aileen Fagan, herself a 2016 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.

“That’s the whole point, is to have that representation,” Aileen Fagan said. “I’ve had it all my life, knowing that I could be successful in the Coast Guard because I could see my mom being successful in the Coast Guard. I think we all want to be able to look up and down the chain, across positions, and see people who look like us or who think like us and be able to see that representation and know that we can do it, too.”