It happened months ago, and yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t yet heard. With the distressed economy at home and the political unrest abroad, it would have been an easy announcement to miss. But it shouldn’t have been.
This past June, Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz became the very first woman to be appointed Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. For that matter, she’s the first woman to ever be appointed Superintendent of any military academy.
The fact that the U.S. Coast Guard was the first to take this particular plunge isn’t surprising. It was as far back as 1975 that the Coast Guard Academy opened its doors to women (even before the Department of Defense was ordered to do so by Congress), and shortly thereafter, in 1977, that the Coast Guard opened all of its jobs to women. Even today, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only branch that does not reserve certain jobs for men alone. That could be one reason why this year’s Academy class is comprised of about one third women – a higher percentage than at any other military academy.
In contrast, women weren’t allowed to serve in combat positions within the Navy and Air Force until 1993, and even now, the Army and Marine Corps refuse women the opportunity to serve in infantry, artillery, and armor units. In case the lines here are hard to draw, it’s significantly more difficult to rise through the ranks of an organization that does not permit you the opportunity to gain experience in critical roles.
Of course, women have been carrying out Coast Guard duties since even before there was a formal Coast Guard. As early as 1830, women were responsible for minding the primitive lighthouses, a job which required little formal education, but enormous patience and stamina. The Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard was formally created by Franklin Roosevelt during World War II (although of course, as frequently happens when women are made visible in great quantities, some assumed recruitment for the Women’s Reserve was really a front for a government-sponsored prostitution ring). But since then, women have moved up the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard with equal consideration, and many feel that this branch is the most institutionally supportive of professional female development and advancement.
This isn’t the first gender barrier that Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz has broken. She was also the first female graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard to even achieve the rank of Admiral. Now, by accepting her new leadership position at the Academy, she’ll serve as an example to not only women in the service, but to other servicemembers, decision makers, and institutions as well. It’ll be inspiring to see what she accomplishes in her new role.