“There is 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 Commander of the Coast Guard, the first woman to lead a branch of the armed forces. Americans,” Biden said. “And it was time.”
Fagan thanked his parents for “their courage in allowing me to begin this journey 41 years ago.”
“I was 16. I announced my intention to go to the academy, full of righteousness as only a 16-year-old can be. And like all good parents, they said, ‘Oh, it’s going to get too big,” Fagan said, making the crowd of about 1,800 uniformed Coast Guard members and guests laugh.
“I didn’t,” she added.
Fagan, 58, succeeds Adm. Karl L. Schultz, who is retiring.
Fagan previously served as vice commander, a role she assumed last summer. His decades of Coast Guard service include a visit to the heavy icebreaker Polar Star – the only woman aboard the ship – as well as missions to all continents. She is also the Coast Guard’s first Gold Ancient Trident, meaning she is the officer with the longest service record in maritime security.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Fagan gave a token nod to Admiral Owen W. Silerthe former Coast Guard commander who played a key role in integrating women into the service beginning in the 1970s. She told the crowd that the epaulettes she wore, which displayed the rank of officer, were the same ones Siler wore when he ran the service.
“If it hadn’t been for Owen Siler’s courage, I don’t believe I would be here today,” Fagan said.
Biden’s nomination of Fagan in April followed the president’s promise to diversify the ranks of government leadership and his administration. He noted on Wednesday that Fagan had joined the Coast Guard only five years after the first women graduated from the academy.
Women made up 8% of Fagan’s Coast Guard Academy graduating class in 1985, Biden said. In contrast, around 40% of the academy’s cadets today are women.
“We must ensure that women have the opportunity to succeed and thrive throughout their professional careers, which means providing support and resources so that women can compete fairly and fully for promotions and ensuring that women are not penalized in their careers for having children,” Biden said. “It also means creating an environment where every member of the armed forces feels safe within 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 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 I could make it in the Coast Guard because I saw my mom make it in the Coast Guard. I think we all want to be able to look up and down the channel, across the posts, and see people who look like us or think like us and be able to see that representation and know that we can do that too.