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Coast Guard Ship Commanders

CAPT Beverly Kelley & CMC Diane Bucci (Ret.)

US Coast Guard
Ship Commanders

In April 1979, LTJG Beverly Kelley became the first woman to command a Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Cape Newhagen. Two years earlier, the Coast Guard experimented with assigning women to sea-going ships. The high-endurance Coast Guard cuttersMorgenthau and Gallatin received 10 enlisted women and two female officers each.

Kelley was one of those officers. According to Coast Guard historical documents, a great deal of opposition accompanied the trial run–including concern from the wives of men aboard the ships. Some seamen reportedly even commented, “There goes the neighborhood.”

The crews of the two cutters were briefed on appropriate conduct on a coeducational vessel and families informed about shipboard modifications to accommodate women and men working and living together. Just as had been the case when the Coast Guard set up its first racially integrated ships’ companies during World War II, the “mixed crews” quietly settled into a working routine and went about their business with little commotion.

CAPT Alan Breed, commanding officer of the Gallatin, acknowledged a year later that some of his male crew members had experienced “apprehensions, reservations, concerns, and, in some cases, frustrations” when they were told that women would be joining the ship, but he asserted that “there have been no major problems to date. … Today, I doubt that there are over two or three who retain such hardcore opposition.”

When Kelley, who now holds the rank of captain, took command of the Newhagen, the 14-man crew adjusted gracefully. Twenty years later, she made history again as the first female to command a Coast Guard medium-endurance cutter, the USCGCNorthland. She told the press, “I’ve punched all the tickets that my male counterparts would have to, to be the commanding officer. … ”

Nearly 10 years after Kelley took command of the Cape Newhagen, another Coast Guard woman was making history. Diane Bucci became the first enlisted woman to command afloat when she became officer in charge of the tugboat, USCGC Capstan in 1988. USCGC Capstan patrolled the upper Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay conducting search and rescue, law enforcement, aids to navigation and environmental protection missions.

Bucci joined the Coast Guard in 1975 and retired as a command master chief in 2002. Remarking on changes that had occurred in relationships between Coast Guard men and women during her career, Bucci said, “Being one of the guys used to be the key … that’s not so any more.”