Coast Guard Commandant addresses future leaders

During the annual leadership address at the Academy, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft talked to the Academy’s Corps of Cadets about leadership principles to help guide them in their careers: know your purpose, standards matter, trust and empower your people and take decisive action.

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Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft addressed the corps of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014. The Commandant addressed leadership challenges and lessons learned from his own Coast Guard experience. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft addressed the corps of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014. The Commandant addressed leadership challenges and lessons learned from his own Coast Guard experience. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

It’s not often that the chief executive officer sits down with the future members of his company to discuss lessons learned, but that is exactly what happened at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday evening.

During the annual leadership address at the Academy, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft talked to the Academy’s Corps of Cadets about leadership principles to help guide them in their careers: know your purpose, standards matter, trust and empower your people and take decisive action.

The Commandant talked to the corps about the current state of the Coast Guard workforce and what they can expect from their people after they graduate and go out in the fleet.

During his address tot he corps of cadets, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft spoke about transnational crime and the purpose of his Western Hemisphere Strategy, and how this would play into their future careers. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
During his address tot he corps of cadets, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft spoke about transnational crime and the purpose of his Western Hemisphere Strategy, and how this would play into their future careers. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“What you are going to find is that the service you will be leading is the best educated, the best qualified Coast Guard that I have ever seen in my 37-plus years of active-duty service,” said the Commandant.

“I met with a recruit company and we had an E-2 coming out of Cape May with a Ph.D. in English,” the Commandant added. “He could be a professor here at the Coast Guard Academy. Even though you’ve come out of an esteemed institution such as the Coast Guard Academy, you are going to be leading a very elite force.”

The Commandant went on to talk about transnational crime.

“As you may know, the Western Hemisphere is home to the most violent crime on the face of the earth,” said the Commandant. “Right now eight out of 10 of the most violent countries in the world are in the Western Hemisphere.”

He said clearly there is a call to action in that part of the world.

“It is a challenge for us, but what we do know is that where organized crime is the most vulnerable is on the high seas, and you know what? It is our authorities, our competencies and our ability to leverage intel that is having a marked impact and we need more.”

The Commandant also emphasized the need for leadership in creating a culture inhospitable to those who commit sexual assault. He quickly made his point about the topic by stating his mantra for all members of the service, “Not in my Coast Guard.”

He also shared a story of a similarly sensitive topic he observed at the beginning of his career, racial discrimination.

He recalled a sea story about a close friend, Vice Adm. Manson Brown, an African American assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Glacier.

During his annual leadership address, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft welcomed questions from U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
During his annual leadership address, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft welcomed questions from U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Brown was in charge of the damage control division. As a lead ensign in the division, the work was never ending. He would make a work list and give it to the chief petty officer and would later find his list crumbled up and thrown in the garbage. The chief told the other damage control personnel to pay no attention to what Brown was saying. While in his state room, Brown was visited by another chief on the boat, Master Chief Petty Officer Davis.

Davis told the ensign to hang in there and that he would be his chief from then on. Brown went on to have a successful career and retired as the second Deputy Commandant for Mission Support.

“So when you think of upholding our standards, when we talk about diversity, when we talk about sexual assault, what we need are more Master Chief Davis’s in our Coast Guard and they are out there,” said the Commandant. “Thanks to the Master Chief Davis’s of the Coast Guard we do have senior leadership that is committed to upholding our standards.”

In closing, the Commandant stated, “As my watch comes to a close in 2018 and I get to hand commissions off to the class of 2018 that will be a symbolic passing of the torch. I have stood the watch. You have the watch and I could not be more confident in you and the Coast Guard to lead us into the 21st century.”

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