Written by LT Connie Braesch
Recently, the Coast Guard reached another milestone as it becomes a more diverse and integrated organization. In November, Captain Sandra Stosz was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (lower half) and became the first female Coast Guard Academy graduate to achieve the rank of flag officer.
Although RDML Stosz isn’t the first female Guardian to ever become an admiral, that honor is held by VADM Vivien Crea who was promoted in 2000, she is the first female Academy graduate to achieve the flag rank.
So, why the difference? The Coast Guard began admitting women into Officer Candidate School in 1973, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the Coast Guard Academy opened up admissions to women. Academy graduates had three years plus four years at the Academy to make up before catching up to their peers who attended Officer Candidate School. Because the rank of admiral requires a nearly 30 year career commitment, the service is just seeing the first female Academy graduate to stay in long enough to reach the flag rank.
A Maryland native, Sandy Stosz entered the Coast Guard Academy in 1978 and was a cadet in the third Academy class that allowed women. Upon graduation in 1982, Ensign Stosz travelled across the country to Long Beach, California, to begin her career on the CGC Glacier. Her first adventure onboard the Glacier was a six month ice breaking deployment to Antarctica.
“As a young Ensign, leaving home for an adventure, that’s the thing stories are made of… the world is your oyster as an Ensign,” she said.
RDML Stosz “loved going to sea” and spent about 12 years of her career underway. She has held several tours onboard cutters and was twice given command of her own ship. Her first command, from 1990-92, took her to the Great Lakes on the ice breaking tug CGC Katmai Bay out of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. This assignment made her the first female to command a cutter in the Great Lakes and launched Stosz into an almost celebrity-like status (see People magazine’s story from April 8, 1991).
In fact, being a pioneer in the Coast Guard is not new to RDML Stosz. She was also the first woman to be assigned to CGC Polar Star and CGC Clover and was the first female military aide to the Secretary of Transportation in 1989.
When Stosz was given her second command of a Coast Guard cutter, it fulfilled a long-time aspiration and dream. While attending the Academy, Stosz had a goal of making Commander and commanding a 210-foot cutter. She achieved that goal when from 2002-04, she was the Commanding Officer of the 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter, CGC Reliance, in Kittery, Maine.
“The Coast Guard, from the day I came in, offered me opportunities that no one else was ready to offer at the time,” recalls RDML Stosz. “The Coast Guard has never had anything a woman couldn’t do. You can join any rating if you are enlisted and any career specialty if you are an officer.”
31 Years Later
As the last female of her Academy class still on active duty, RDML Stosz’s career has been full of adventure and accomplishments, but it hasn’t been without some personal sacrifices.
“There is a balance that is required when you go in to a deployable service,” she said. “When I retire, my list is full of volunteer work and doing all the things I wasn’t really able to do while in the Coast Guard. So, I am pretty good at putting the reward in the out years and knowing it is coming my way.”
But, she doesn’t harbor any bitterness or resentment for the choices she made to pursue her Coast Guard career. In fact, she doesn’t call her decisions ‘sacrifices.’
“I see it as a choice that I made voluntarily and willingly,” she said.
The Way Ahead for the Coast Guard
When asked what she felt her accomplishment meant for the Coast Guard as an organization, she said, “I will be happy and fulfilled as a senior member in the Coast Guard when people just look at me as a senior leader and not as a senior female leader. I want to be known as the seventh Captain of CGC Katmai Bay and not the first female Captain.”
Now, on her 16th assignment since leaving the Coast Guard Academy in 1982, RDML Stosz is the Director of CG Enterprise Strategy, Management & Doctrine Oversight at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Congratulations and Bravo Zulu to RDML Sandy Stosz on her distinguished and decorated Coast Guard career.
To read more about other “firsts” in the Coast Guard, click here.