WATCH: Admiral Linda Fagan addresses Coast Guard Academy cadets in New London, Conn., Aug. 17, 2023.
For over 233 years the Coast Guard has served our Nation. Today we answer the call to protect our national security and promote our economic prosperity in a rapidly changing world. Earlier this summer we launched an unprecedented search and rescue effort to locate people aboard a missing deep-sea submersible. More recently, we rescued people who escaped the wildfire on Maui by sheltering in the water. Our marine inspectors continue to adapt to new technology in the maritime industry, such as alternative fuels and onboard automation. And our cutter crews face unprecedented challenges as they operate in the Caribbean, Strait of Hormuz, Arctic, and Western Pacific.
We complete these changing missions by applying principles of operations sharpened over centuries, including clear objective, unity of effort, and on-scene initiative. We align our actions to our core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty. And our Ethos guides us to protect, defend, and save others. Our strong Service culture drives our operational success.
However, it is clear to me that we are not fully applying our core values, principles of operation, or Ethos to our own workplaces. In some places in our Coast Guard, there is an unacceptable disconnect between the workplace experience we talk about, and the experience our people are actually having.
The Operation Fouled Anchor investigation revealed clear evidence of that disconnect in the Coast Guard Academy’s past, which left victims to carry their pain in silent isolation.
Disconnection from our core values can occur anywhere in our Service. It is revealed by reports of sexual assault, harassment, hazing, bullying, retaliation, discrimination, and other harmful workplace behaviors. Today, there are victims of these betrayals grieving at our units. We must not let them suffer in silence.
Any disconnect between the core values we revere and the actual experience of each member of our workforce harms our people, erodes their trust in leaders, and undermines our ability to execute our missions.
In the past we may have thought about operational challenges and workforce climate as two distinct elements of our responsibility. There is no distinction. Our operational success depends on our people, and our people are sustained by a positive workplace experience.
The Coast Guard has a cultural norm of transparency and attention when things go wrong operationally. We investigate mishaps, determine root causes, and aggressively share what happened with others. Our command cadre courses share the lessons learned with each new generation of leaders. Today cutters operate safely after learning from the BLACKTHORN, as our boat crews remember Station Quillayute River, our marine inspectors the CAPE DIAMOND, the Deployable Specialized Forces community ME3 Lin, and our aircrews the CG 6505, to mention only a few examples. Our crews are comfortable speaking up when they see risky situations developing as they perform their missions.
Conversely, we do not have a cultural norm for transparency and attention around sexual assault or harassment, hazing and bullying, toxic leadership, discrimination, or other negative workplace experiences. We do not discuss incidents and do not encourage leaders throughout the Coast Guard to learn from them. Our people do not feel as confident speaking up about workplace behaviors as they do operational risks.
We must give our workplace climate the same transparency and attention as we do our operational missions. Leaders must be comfortable talking about workplace experiences with their crews, so that our crews feel comfortable reporting concerns. Leaders must then have the courage and discipline to act. As we demonstrate clear objective, unity of effort, and on-scene initiative in every operational mission, we must also apply those principles to care for our own workforce.
Trust and respect thrive in transparency but are shattered by silence. Through greater transparency, we will ensure every Coast Guard workplace has a climate that deters harmful behaviors and gives everyone the positive Coast Guard experience they expect and deserve.
This work will strengthen our readiness. We will live up to our Ethos to protect, defend, and save the American people by first protecting, defending, and saving each other.
In July I initiated a 90-day Accountability and Transparency Review to assess the Service’s authorities, policies, processes, practices, resources, and culture. The Review will plot a course for the way ahead. We will match our commitment to operations in our commitment to a culture of respect. I expect all Coast Guard leaders to provide all members of our workforce a positive experience reflective of our core values. Our mission success depends on it.
Editor’s Note: This letter is also published in the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association Bulletin August/September issue.