Stosz is happy to continue her Coast Guard career
New London - Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said in a phone interview Friday that she is surprised but pleased the Coast Guard had selected her to continue as a rear admiral following her tour at the academy.
The academy confirmed Thursday that the Coast Guard had selected Stosz for continuation. Her current tour as superintendent ends in the summer of 2015.
"I thought I was in a terminal position. I was very happy to finish my Coast Guard career here," Stosz said Friday, adding that she was pleased to further her more than 30-year career that started with her matriculation into the academy in 1978.
"I love the Coast Guard or I wouldn't still be in," she said.
Stosz, 54, said she had no role in the decision for her to continue, explaining that the Coast Guard is required by law to consider admirals for continuation after four or five years of service. She explained that some admirals are not continued so as to make space for the promotion of lower-ranked officers. She said she had been an admiral for about four years.
Stosz's continuation is a break from Coast Guard tradition. Superintendents of the academy typically retire after completing their time in the post.
"Normally, this is the capper of your career," academy spokesman David Santos said Thursday.
"If you're in a terminal position, generally speaking, you know you're going to do the best job you can here," the superintendent explained Friday. She said she believes seniority of rank paired with the expectation that the position will be their last makes it easier for superintendents to be honest with higher officials such as the commandant about tougher issues.
The last superintendent to continue serving after an assignment at the academy was Vice Admiral James Larkin, according to Stosz. Santos wrote in an email that Larkin served as superintendent from 1981 to 1982 and went on to command the Coast Guard's Pacific Area regional command.
Stosz started her tenure in June 2011 as the 40th superintendent of the academy, and is the first woman to lead any U.S. military academy. She was a member of the third class of cadets at the academy to allow women and is the last female member of that class to remain on active duty.
"Certainly when I came here as superintendent, it was as the first woman to lead a service academy, but actually it never colored my view because I've been one of the first women in many of the jobs that I've had," she said Friday.
She added that starting as a mid-rank officer, she began to see how rising in the ranks as a woman has inspired both younger women in the service and older women who perhaps never had the opportunity to join the Coast Guard.
Her time at the academy has been marked by shrinking class sizes under the weight of financial constraints that she said just began hitting the federal government in 2011, following the 2007-08 recession.
That is, until this year. The new class of 2018 stands at 256 students, compared to 231 freshmen who joined the campus last year, according to Stosz. It is the first time the superintendent has seen enrollment climb since she welcomed 292 cadets to the academy in the summer of 2011. She attributes the rebound to a recovering economy that is allowing the Coast Guard to regain capacity for officers.
"The tide has changed," she said.
Looking forward to the next year, Stosz said the academy will be focusing more energy on supporting the Coast Guard's roles in cyber security and in the Arctic, where melting ice caps mean more waterways where the Coast Guard is executing missions.
She cited as examples of this focus the academy's new Center for Arctic Study and Policy, for which there will be a ribbon cutting next week. She also cited the academy's continued role in training officers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Also new on campus is key card access now being installed at the barracks. Stosz said the addition is meant to increase security on campus.
Stosz said she does not yet know what her next position in the Coast Guard will be, and said she has no specific hopes or ambitions for her future service.
She explained that she had already risen higher in the ranks than she had ever expected. Her dream from her time as a cadet at the academy, where she graduated in 1982, was to command a cutter. She has commanded two.
"I have gone further than I have ever expected to go," she said.
Coast Guard spokesman CWO Chad Saylor said that the Coast Guard does not publicly release its reasons for continuing a rear admiral.
As Stosz steams forward in her career, she is approaching two more benchmarks where the Coast Guard will have to consider whether she should continue service. In 2017, Stosz will reach the seven-year mark as an admiral, at which point she will be forced to retire unless promoted to vice admiral, she said. In 2018, she will reach the 36-year mark in her career, in which case she will be forced to retire unless promoted to commandant, she said.
Serving again as superintendent after her current tour would hypothetically be possible, according to Stosz. However, no superintendent has ever returned to the academy as superintendent after finishing a tour there, according to Santos.
Over the phone Friday, as she described watching cadets pass by her office window, Stosz said that she didn't believe news that she would be among the few superintendents to continue service in the Coast Guard after completing a tour as a the academy affected her students.
She said the idea of continuing service wasn't something cadets really thought about yet - much as she herself didn't consider progressing beyond the role of commander on a cutter, one might say.
"They don't care. They don't even know what continuation is or the fact that their admiral is continuing on," she said.
"You know what I mean - they're young people," she added.