VADM Brice-O’Hara on leadership and the future of the Coast Guard

A little more than a week after assuming her duties, the Coast Guard’s second female Vice Commandant found herself before a room of women wearing Coast Guard blue and looking to the service’s highest ranking woman for leadership, counsel and inspiration. LT Anastacia Thorsson reports that the audience received that and then some in this blog from the conference.

Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, speaks at the Sea Service Leadership Association Women's Leadership Symposium in Washington. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Victoria Bonk.)

Post written by LT Anastacia Thorsson

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

In her first major address since assuming the duties of Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara delivered a speech on leadership, the way ahead for the Coast Guard and the unique experiences of a career as one of the Coast Guard’s first female officers.

Brice-O’Hara delivered her remarks before a room of female Coast Guard officers and enlisted personnel during the keynote address of the 23rd Sea Service Leadership Association’s Women’s Leadership Symposium. The theme of the conference, Leading from the Front into the Future, is “exactly in resonance” with the direction that the Coast Guard’s new leadership team plans to take according to the service’s vice commandant.

She went on to touch on the four guiding principles Admiral Papp outlined as his guiding principles in the opening days of his tenure as Commandant of the Coast Guard: Steady the Service, Honor Our Profession, Strengthen our Partnerships, and Respect our Shipmates. More important to the gathered audience, Brice-O’Hara explained how that vision applies to women in the service.

On the topic of steadying our service, she explained that senior leadership recognizes that the last decade has been one of tumultuous change for the Coast Guard.

“It never ends,” Brice-O’Hara said. “There will always be some type of change.”

Even taking an ever-changing environment into consideration, she explained that it is the command’s goal to create an environment wherein the Coast Guard has the stability of standardization and extensive training in order to steady the course. She also reiterated Admiral Papp’s promise, “I will not ask you to do more than our resources allow.”

One of the many speed mentoring tables at the Women's Leadership Symposium. VADM Brice-O'Hara credits the mentors in her life with helping her succeed. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Victoria Bonk.)

On the topic of respecting shipmates, Vice Admiral Brice-O’Hara emphasized that leaders need to be “bold” in working with shipmates to engender an environment of respect. She emphasized to the women in the room that one of the responsibilities of female leaders is ensuring the women who follow are even more deserving of respect than those who led the way.

A question arose from the audience about how to garner that respect, and the confidence needed to do our jobs. The Vice Commandant’s answer was simple and to the point: Professionalism.

“That’s what engenders confidence in our ability to do our job,” Brice-O’Hara said.

The vice admiral credited outstanding mentors with helping her rise through the ranks to where she is today. The value of having someone to confide in, ask for assistance, and play the role of mentor was stressed throughout the second day of the conference.

To drive home the themes in her address, Brice-O’Hara stuck around for a “speed mentoring” session. Her exuberance in sharing the knowledge that has helped her ascend to the Coast Guard’s second highest position was contagious. The example of her commitment to the welfare of the Coasties under her command is one that all who follow her would do well to heed.

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