A diverse Coast Guard was a Rendon priority
James E. "Jim" Rendon retired Thursday after 36 years in the Coast Guard, a career that started and ended at the Coast Guard Academy. What many people may not know is that he is among six family members who have graduated from the Academy and continued on to careers as officers in the Coast Guard, collectively giving more than 100 years of service to their country.
Jim Rendon would be the first to tell you that the Coast Guard Academy is on a continuing journey to achieving the kind of diversity, inclusion and equity he and Felicitas (Fela), his amazing wife, believe is fundamental to the future success of the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Academy. Among the areas in which he takes the most pride over his time at the Academy is the increase in the number of students of color admitted and the number who have graduated.
He has often said that he is extremely concerned about misperceptions concerning the harassment incidents at the Academy that received wide publicity. Having read the full report on the harassment of an officer, I know from experience that among the painful parts of leadership is when you can’t say what you might like to. I also know there is an equally strong imperative to investigate and address similar incidents at the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis), the Air Force Academy and West Point.
When you ask Admiral Rendon and Fela of the things of which they are most proud, first on the list is improving the diversity, inclusion and equity in the service in his day to day work at the Academy. He tells the story of a young cadet of color who wanted to “disembark,” i.e., leave the Academy. The cadet said that he didn’t know if he fit into the Academy or the service.
Picking up on this on his rounds, starting with an early run, often with students or staff, and lasting into the night, the admiral invited the cadet in for a conversation. Encouraging him to stay, he pointed to the cadet’s leadership qualities that the Coast Guard needed. Rendon found out later that the cadet walked into his unit commander’s office and tore up his disembarkation letter. He has since become quite successful.
Admiral Rendon, I know, kept a close eye on the progress of young men and women from New London, making sure that all that could be done was done to assure their success through sometimes challenging moments, especially in their first year.
Rendon will tell you that he feels very good about a number of things that have happened on his watch: the introduction of a new cyber major, the first new major in twenty five years; working with alumni to create a Maritime Center for Excellence; a new cyber center; the Otto Graham physical activity center; the beginnings of a new student activity center and the Eclipse Legacy Fund aimed at continuing the work of expanding inclusion, diversity and inclusion. This was all done while funding for the Coast Guard faced continuing net reductions.
He would also be the first to tell you that much work needs doing. While he is proud of the work he and Fela did to establish the food pantry for area service personnel during the government shutdown, the growth of cadets during their four years at the academy, and the bright future of the cadets and graduates, he knows that complacency and satisfaction can get in the way of success.
He knows that success demands continuously improving.
Nick Fischer is a former superintendent of schools for New London and lives in the city.