In Memoriam: Adm. Robert Kramek, 20th Commandant of the Coast Guard

Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty
rather than the difficulty in every opportunity.
Reed Markham

Adm. Robert E. Kramek was the 20th Coast Guard Commandant from 1994-1998.

Adm. Robert E. Kramek was the 20th Coast Guard Commandant from 1994-1998.

It is with sadness that we inform you of the recent death of one of our former leaders, Adm. Robert E. Kramek, who passed away on Oct. 20, 2016.

Adm. Kramek served as the Coast Guard’s 20th commandant from 1994 through 1998, during which time he significantly expanded the Coast Guard’s global reach and influence as commandant, including directing active participation in the combined service/international anti-narcotic smuggling operations Frontier Shield and Gulf Shield, along with other law enforcement operations.

More than that though, Adm. Kramek was a true servant leader and a continuous mentor throughout his life.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) greets the 20th commandant of the Coast Guard, ret. Adm. Bob Kramek (center) and his wife, Pat Kramek, before a Coast Guard Foundation awards dinner in Houston, May 13, 2016. Photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) greets the 20th commandant of the Coast Guard, ret. Adm. Bob Kramek (center) and his wife, Pat Kramek, before a Coast Guard Foundation awards dinner in Houston, May 13, 2016. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“I witnessed the commitment of Admiral Kramek personally while serving as commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane during Operation Able Manner,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, Coast Guard Commandant. “I recall him inspiring my crew, and other responding crews, with a stirring call to service amidst difficult circumstances. He lifted our spirits and encouraged perseverance. At his final State of the Coast Guard Address as commandant, Admiral Kramek asked, ‘Are we prepared for the changes we expect in the new millennium?’ Due to his leadership, his guidance and his commitment, the answer is a resounding yes. With heavy hearts, we remember Admiral Kramek as we send our thoughts and prayers to Mrs. Patricia Kramek and the entire Kramek family.”

Adm. Kramek was born on Dec. 15, 1939 in Manhattan and was raised in Queens. At a young age, he learned the importance of a strong work ethic, as his father was a New York City fireman. As the oldest of three children, he had to take on many responsibilities for the family and set the example for his siblings. Young Robert worked diligently to became an Eagle Scout and, as a result, was invited to an IBM leadership-development program that led to a visit to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He desired to pursue music and art, but his father and his guidance counselor urged him to consider the Coast Guard Academy because of his aptitude for mathematics and science, and the benefits for military members. The future admiral took their advice and reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the summer of 1957. His mother and father were very supportive and encouraging, always reminding him “you can do anything,” a saying that he later passed on to his four children. He graduated in 1961 with an officer commission and a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering.

Ret. Adm. Bob Kramek, the 20th commandant of the Coast Guard (right), poses for a picture with his wife, Pat, and son, Capt. Joe Kramek, at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Sept. 23, 2011. Photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley.

Ret. Adm. Bob Kramek, the 20th commandant of the Coast Guard (right), poses for a picture with his wife, Pat, and son, Capt. Joe Kramek, at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Sept. 23, 2011. Photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley.

As both a surface operations specialist and naval engineer, he served for 37 years around the world, particularly in Alaska and the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific regions. Committed to excellence, Adm. Kramek was a lifelong learner and attended four graduate schools including the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Alaska and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where he graduated with highest distinction. He received Master of Science degrees in the fields of naval architecture, marine engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering management. Adm. Kramek was selected for flag rank in 1986 and completed the “Capstone” Program at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington, DC.

As Commandant, he led the Coast Guard’s international efforts during Operation Baltops in the Baltic Sea and helped several former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine develop their own individual coast guard organizations. He also worked closely with Russia to institute joint operations and agreements to ensure fish stocks and the environment were actively protected, as well as ensuring coordinated search and rescue cases were effectively carried out.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp congratulates Adm. Robert Kramek (ret.), the 20th Commandant of the Coast Guard, during the Coast Guard Academy celebration of the Class of 1961 in New London, Conn., Sept. 23, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp congratulates Adm. Robert Kramek (ret.), the 20th Commandant of the Coast Guard, during the Coast Guard Academy celebration of the Class of 1961 in New London, Conn., Sept. 23, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Adm. Kramek was a steadfast leader during national tragedies, such as the crashes of Alaska Airlines Flight 301 in February 1996 off the coast of California and TWA Flight 800 outside of New York five months later. He successfully led the Coast Guard through difficult budget issues and directed the “streamlining” plan mandated by President Bill Clinton’s National Performance Review and Mandate For Change.

Before he became the Commandant of the Coast Guard, his assignments as a flag officer included Coast Guard Chief of Staff, commander of the Seventh District and commander of the Thirteenth District. He served concurrently as the Regional Drug Interdiction Coordinator and principal of a migration task force during his role as commander of the Seventh District. Other major commands included Governors Island, the then-largest base in the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett.

We send our deepest and sincerest condolences to the Kramek family.
Fair winds and following seas.

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