WASHINGTON — Adm. Karl L. Schultz took command of the U.S. Coast Guard during a June 1 ceremony at Coast Guard headquarters presided over by President Donald J. Trump and attended by most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, homeland security officials, a large international contingent, current and former Coast Guard members, and family and friends.
“Today is a day of hails, a day of farewells and a day of thank yous,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in her introductory remarks at the change of command, which marked the end of the four-year tenure as commandant of Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, who officially retired from the Coast Guard in a ceremony immediately following the event.
“‘Service above self,’ an Adm. Zukunft quote, is a reflection of his 40 years of service in the Coast Guard, words to live by that I share,” she said.
Zukunft became the 25th commandant on May 30, 2014. His leadership and vision were instrumental in increasing the pace of the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts, according to a release from the service. He worked with Congress and the White House to achieve funding for completion of the national security cutter program of record, the acquisition of new fast response cutters, and funding for the waterways commerce cutter and the offshore patrol cutter. He also ensured the Coast Guard began receiving necessary funding for the acquisition of the nation’s first new polar icebreaker in more than 40 years.
Zukunft led the service’s efforts to respond to the unprecedented 2017 hurricane season, where Coast Guard personnel saved or assisted nearly 12,000 victims from flooded communities in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Schultz reports to Coast Guard headquarters as the 26thh commandant from Portsmouth, Virginia, where he served as the Atlantic Area commander since August 2016, directing all Coast Guard missions from the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf, spanning across five districts and 40 states.
Noting Schultz’s oversight of last summer’s hurricane response as Atlantic Area commander, Nielsen said “confidence, leadership and dedication to country was evident in the mission. As he assumes command today as the commandant of the Coast Guard, President Trump and I have full confidence in Adm. Schultz’s ability to lead this proud organization with honor and integrity.”
“We’re gathered together today for a truly special occasion,” Trump said during his remarks. “We are here to mark a change in command of the United States Coast Guard and celebrate the incredible career of its 25th commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft. On behalf of the American people, I thank you for a lifetime of noble service. Congratulations on everything you have achieved for nearly half a century. For 45 years, Paul has proudly worn the Coast Guard uniform. That’s a long time, you don’t look that old,” he joked.
“In that time, he has led every kind of mission never backed down … he’s never lost a challenge,” Trump said. “For the last four years, Adm. Zukunft … has led with extraordinary skill, devotion and pride. … Throughout the admiral’s tenure, he poured his heart and soul into the service of our nation and he brought remarkable vision to the task of ensuring the Coast Guard’s rightful place at the forefront of American security and prosperity. America is safe because our Coast Guard is strong.”
Trump also thanked Zukunft’s wife, Fran DeNinno-Zukunft for her own service as a devoted mentor and representative for military families.
“We are grateful for everything you’ve done to advance the Coast Guard mission, it’s been a lot,” he said.
After highlighting some of the Coast Guard’s accomplishment’s during Zukunft’s tenure, Trump praised last year’s “unbelievable” hurricane response and noted that, “with this ceremony we proudly pass the helm of the United States Coast Guard to the man who oversaw those emergency operations.”
Echoing Nielsen’s comments about Schultz, Trump said, “I have complete confidence that Karl will carry out his new mission with the same talent, strength and devotion that have characterized his entire career. He has had an incredible and very brave career. Karl, we congratulate you and we thank you for answering this call to service. …
The change of command, Trump said, comes “at a great moment, not just for the Coast Guard, but for our entire nation. Your service makes all of America proud. American knows that we can always count on the Coast Guard because the Coast Guard is always ready.”
“Today is the first day of hurricane season, this is a good day to cut and run,” Zukunft quipped, after receiving the orders relieving him of command. He used a series of baseball analogies to describe his tenure as commandant.
“When I came into this position, I told my senior leadership team that it is high time that we swung for the fences. For too many years we went up to the plate and squared around to bunt. You’re never going to hit a ball out of the park when you bunt every time you step up to the plate. Well swing we did. … 2018 was the largest appropriation for the United States Coast Guard,” he said.
“When I look what we are investing in, our fleet of national security cutters, originally this was going to be a fleet of eight, we now have 11 on budget and under construction. The offshore patrol cutter, it was a hope in 2014 … well it’s a reality, the first one will hit the water in 2021, with many more to follow. … And we’re building polar icebreakers, the first one arrives in 2023. … We’re building out a fleet of what we call waterway commerce cutters. In 2019, we will open up a cyber curriculum at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. We have to grow the talent. We’re also investing in unmanned aerial systems. … We’re investing our people as well, we’re growing the force.
“Yes, we swung for the fences, we hit a home run, but this is an infinite game and the game goes on and, yes, it must go on,” he said.
After reading his orders to report for duty as commandant, Schultz pledged to carry on the work that had begun under Zukunft’s watch.
“Our Coast Guard is in fact strong. We have been a well-run and led organization. The privilege of assuming command today is amplified by the fact that this will be a seamless transition. Much more about a continuity of command than a changing of command. … As I survey the waters and the opportunities that lie ahead for this service, I envision our heading remaining generally steady, but we’ll look to pick up spend when possible and where appropriate,” Schultz said.
“As I assume my new duties, I am confident that we have built a strong leadership team. We are eager to get about the work of leading this Coast Guard.”