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

A year after breaking barriers as the first woman to become a four-star admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Linda Fagan made history again on Wednesday by becoming the first woman to assume command of the service and the first woman to lead any of the U.S. armed forces.

In a change of command ceremony in Washington, D.C., attended by President Joe Biden, Fagan relieved Adm. Karl Schultz as commandant of the Coast Guard. Fagan had served as the vice commandant since June 2021. After the change of command, Schultz retired after 39 years of service.

In a speech, Biden praised Fagan for her "outstanding leadership and accomplishment."

"The trailblazing career of Admiral Fagan shows young people entering the services, we mean what we say: There are no doors — no doors — closed to women," Biden told around 2,000 cheering guests at Coast Guard headquarters. "Now we need to keep working to make sure Admiral Fagan may be the first but not the only person. We need to see more women at the highest levels of command in the Coast Guard and across every service in the armed forces."

The president praised the admiral for opening doors and giving other women "following behind you a way through."

"We need to ensure women have an opportunity to succeed and thrive throughout their professional careers," Biden said. "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."

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Adm. Linda Fagan, left, relieves Adm. Karl Schultz as commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard as President Joe Biden looks on at a change of command ceremony in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

In her remarks after relieving Schultz of command, Fagan said she has been inspired by Coast Guard professionals serving around the world and is grateful to those who paved the way for her, citing such pioneering women as Dorothy Stratton — the first woman to be commissioned an officer in the Coast Guard, Elizebeth Friedman — a codebreaker who worked with the Coast Guard during Prohibition, and others. 

"I'm proud to be a part of this long history of service, dedication, and groundbreaking, and I'm committed to carrying these principles forward," Fagan said. "Americans are proud of their Coast Guard and every person who serves in this organization, whether in uniform or as a civilian, active duty, Reserve, or Auxiliary. We should all be proud of our accomplishments every day to keep our nation safe and prosperous."

Fagan, 58, is a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Over the course of her nearly 37-year career, she has served on all seven continents. From 2010 to 2012, she served as captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey and commander of Sector New York, based on Staten Island.

One of six armed services of the United States, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense. It has about 44,500 active duty personnel, another 7,000 reservists, and thousands more civilian and Auxiliary members.