Change of Watch: Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard

Earlier today, Admiral Thad Allen presided over the final change of watch ceremony preceding tomorrow’s Commandant Change of Command. During today’s change of watch, Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara relieved Vice Admiral David Pekoske as Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. We welcome back former Coast Guard Compass blogger LT Anastacia Thorsson who provided us with this post on the woman who will now serve as the second highest-ranking officer in the Coast Guard.

Post written by LT Anastacia Thorsson.

Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara is known for her grace under pressure, intelligence and dedication to the Coast Guard. What many may not know is that the woman who will now serve as the second highest ranking officer in the Coast Guard fully intended on a career as a social worker.

Back in 1974, fresh out of Goucher College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology, she started her career as a social worker where she worked with juveniles in the court system. Shortly into that career she decided the job simply didn’t enable her to make enough of a difference.

In 1975, she attended Officer Candidate School and received her commission in the Coast Guard. This time period was ground breaking for women in the Coast Guard as they had just started letting women into the officer corps in 1973. Brice-O’Hara is no stranger to changes in the Coast Guard, she was a pioneer, working in units that had never included female service members before.

“What I have found is that you demonstrate your capabilities, you perform well, you work hard and then everyone sees that you are a vital component and that you can all live together,” Brice-O’Hara said about being at units that had not had women assigned to them before.

Vice Admiral Brice-O’Hara has served from coast to coast, from Alaska to Washington D.C. As the Commander of 14th District in Honolulu, her area of responsibility covered 12 million square miles of ocean, including Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Japan and Singapore. While the district might be the largest geographic area of responsibility in the Coast Guard, it has the smallest work force. At a time when the Coast Guard is facing a plethora of changes, and being asked to do more every day, Brice-O’Hara’s experience in getting the mission done with limited resources will be beneficial to the service.

“The men and women who serve in the Coast Guard have immeasurable courage to face the types of missions that we endure, their fortitude is admirable. We go out in the kinds of conditions that no one else will go out in.” Brice-O’Hara said during a visit to South Korea aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Rush in 2006 on a mission to engage in an exchange of ideas and techniques with other coast guards operating in the region.

In this file photograph from 2005, Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara inspects the honor guard during a change of command ceremony. (USCG photo by PA3 John D. Miller.)

Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara inspects the honor guard during a change of command ceremony in 2005. (USCG photo by PA3 John D. Miller.)

Brice-O’Hara once again found herself in the position of an ambassador for women during that deployment, as almost no other member country in the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum has a woman in such a notable position, or in any form of command. It was an inspirational visit, not just for the women on the CGC Rush, but for all women she encountered on that trip.

“VADM Brice-O’Hara is an outstanding leader who brings to the job superlative expertise and commitment,” said Vice Admiral David Pekoske, who Brice-O’Hara relieved as vice commandant, in an all-hands e-mail. “The transition of senior leadership offers the organization the opportunity for healthy change and improvement. I encourage you to embrace the change and provide VADM Brice-O’Hara the same remarkable support that you provided to me.”

Brice-O’Hara most recently served as the Deputy Commandant for Operations, where she had the chance to see the vast scope of what the Coast Guard faces today, and she is an officer that is greatly experienced in facing change in our service.

“Our motto, Semper Paratus, serves as a constant reminder that we must retain a ‘bias for action,’ always prepared to go into harm’s way in the service of others.”

Check back tomorrow for the Change of Command Ceremony as Admiral Robert J. Papp becomes the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard.

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