Coast Guard’s Linda Fagan Nominated as First Woman Service Chief

Another glass ceiling has been shattered.

USNI News (“Biden Nominates Adm. Linda Fagan to Head Coast Guard, First Woman to Lead Military Service“):

The Biden administration has nominated Adm. Linda Fagan to lead the U.S. Coast Guard, a defense official told USNI News on Tuesday. Fagan, currently the Coast Guard’s vice commandant, will be the first woman to lead a U.S. military service.

Fagan has been the Coast Guard’s number two since June and was the first woman in the service to be promoted to four stars.

Prior to her current role, she led Coast Guard Pacific Area from June of 2018 to June 2021. She previously served as the deputy director of operations for headquarters at U.S. Northern Command and led First Coast Guard District, which is based in Boston, Ma. Fagan also previously served on USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10). She spent 15 years as a Coast Guard marine inspector. Fagan is a 1985 graduate from the Coast Guard Academy.

“Adm. Fagan is a tremendous leader, trailblazer, and respected public servant who will lead the Coast Guard across its critical missions with honor. Over Adm. Fagan’s 36 years in the Coast Guard, she has served on seven continents, was previously commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area, and is the officer with the longest service record in the marine safety field,” reads a Tuesday statement from the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “Within the Coast Guard and across the Department of Homeland Security, Adm. Fagan is admired as a role model of the utmost integrity, and her historic nomination is sure to inspire the next generation of women who are considering careers in military service.”

Additionally, the White House nominated Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, the current commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, to serve as vice commandant. Poulin was formerly the Judge Advocate General and Chief Counsel of the Coast Guard and is a 1984 Coast Guard Academy graduate.

The report gets it slightly wrong: the Coast Guard is one of the five armed services; it is not a military service because it’s part of the Department of Homeland Security (and before that, the Department of Transportation) rather than the Department of Defense. To make things more confusing, there are seven uniformed services, adding in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Corps, which falls under the Commerce Department.

While there have been a handful of women four-star generals and admirals since the Army’s Ann Dunwoody became the first back in 2008, it’s unlikely one of the military services will follow the Coast Guard’s lead any time soon. The service cultures prize leaders who came up through the core combat functions and women were excluded from those until relatively recently. If I had to guess, the Air Force, which has had women fighter pilots since Jeannie Leavitt (now a two-star general) broke the barrier in 1993, will be the first.

The Coast Guard, while it performs a vital national security function, is simply a different animal. It would be simply unthinkable for someone who rose up through the Judge Advocate General track to become a four-star officer and command “regular” forces in any of the other services.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs, National Security, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Congratulations to Adm Fagan. Time and opportunity will eventually lead to a woman rising to the leadership of other branches of the uniformed services. Though no prediction of when.

  2. JKB says:

    Skipping over the Surgeon General of the USPHS, who is rarely a career USPHS officer, Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields, NOAA was the first “from the ranks” service chief of a uniformed service, appointed in 1999. So this is a progression into the armed services. Unlike the military services whose line functions are combat, law enforcement/marine inspection are line functions for the USCG.