Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm
During the annual leadership address at the Coast Guard Academy, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft talked to the Academy’s Corps of Cadets about the current state of the Coast Guard workforce, our close ties to the Department of Homeland Security, and his “view from the bridge.”
“What you see is the tip of the iceberg, and as a senior leader you could spend a lot of time there. But it’s important that you bore down into that substrata of that iceberg, so you can really understand what is happening in your organization.”
The Commandant also touched on our close relationship with Secretary Jeh Johnson and DHS.
“Tomorrow (March 1) marks the 13th year that we have served under the banner of the Department of Homeland Security and this year will mark my 39th year of commissioned service in the Coast Guard and I can say that we have never had this kind of support from the service secretary that we do today,” said the Commandant.
One of the Commandants topics for the evening was diversity and during his State of the Coast Guard address the Commandant talked about its importance within the Coast Guard.
“Our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is reaping huge rewards, and today, our Coast Guard Academy is more diverse than it has ever been in its 150-year history with the classes of 2018 and 2019 comprised of nearly 40 percent women and 33 percent underrepresented minorities,” said the Commandant. “I am sure most Academy graduates in the audience today probably feel like I do – I’m glad I applied when I did, because I would not want to compete with the young men and women in New London today!”
A first class cadet in the audience, Hunter Stowes, said the Commandant’s address to the Academy was empowering and uplifting.
“He discussed his efforts to establish a culture of respect in the Coast Guard, so culture of the organization stuck in my mind as he spoke,” said Stowes. “As I listened, it became apparent that the Coast Guard’s dominant culture is service above self. This culture is not just a recruiting slogan; it is a reality.”
“What does duty to people look like within a culture of service above self? As a prospective officer, it means putting my people first. It means working alongside my people when necessary and always being their loudest advocate,” said Stowes. “If I hope to place my people first, I must know them first. In doing so, I will build relationships with them, empower them, know their needs before they voice them, and most importantly, I will be aware of their well being.”
Another cadet in the audience during the Commandants address, Second Class Cadet Abby Culp, also latched onto the theme of “service before self.”
“Through the training program here at the Academy, you start to notice that the same characteristics define the idea of a good leader, regardless of whether you are simply a cadet in a small division or the leader of the entire Coast Guard; it shows you that while each person has individual strengths and weaknesses; consistent underlying moral principles and high standards do indeed separate the average leaders from the excellent ones,” said Culp.
“Your willingness to be there for those around you will be what earns you the trust of the people with whom you work, from the swabs whom you train over cadre summer, to the crewmembers on your third class and first class summer assignments, to your daily military duties during the academic year. Whether you are a simply a cadet in a small division, or the leader of the entire Coast Guard, humility and selflessness never cease to be integral to your position,” she added.
In closing, the Commandant talked about the future and how the service is replacing updated equipment with newer, more capable platforms. He also used the opportunity to stress that people are still the most important asset the Coast Guard has.
“We are getting all new stuff,” Zukunft said. “We are getting new helicopters, icebreakers, and fast response cutters. We (are getting) it all, but if I don’t have the people, it’s meaningless. It means absolutely nothing without you.”