Coast Guard Senior Leader Benefits from War
Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, has built an impressive record of achievement and leadership in her service. In her career, Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara has served as Deputy Commandant for Operations; Commander of the 5th and 14th Coast Guard Districts and Deputy Commander for Asia-Pacific Engagement; Director of Reserve and Training; Commanding Officer of Training Center Cape May; and as a strategic planner for the Coast Guard Commandant. The National War College, she says, played an important role in making all of this possible. "The year broadened my thinking and made me more capable of contributing to the Coast Guard as a senior leader," she explains.
The Coast Guard selects its NWC students through a panel that looks at performance to date and future career potential. It is "considered quite prestigious within the Coast Guard," Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara explains, "to be able to attend," and she considered herself lucky to be selected for the class of 1997. As it turned out, "I went at about the right time in my career to bring the experience back to the policy and strategy jobs" and subsequent command positions she would hold.
Her experience up to NWC, she says, had been "narrow-inwardly focused on the Coast Guard and its operational needs." Immediately, she discovered at the College a "broadening aperture" of readings, speakers, and student interaction that was intellectually stimulating and "enriching at a number of different levels." Her year at NWC sharpened her critical analysis abilities, she says, in part through paper assignments that asked students to articulate their arguments and ideas in written form. Students were exposed to a rich set of speakers and heard "the unvarnished thoughts and views of the most senior leaders"-after which students "had the freedom to do free-wheeling thinking sparked by what the speakers had presented." Such a combination of world-class thinkers and senior leaders sharing their off-the-record thoughts and the ability to discuss and debate their arguments, was "priceless," she says.
The relationships she formed with her peers were an equally important part of the War College experience for Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara. It was "valuable for me to be exposed to the other services" as well as civilians from around the government, she explains, to come to understand their cultures and perspectives on issues. Students at NWC have many opportunities to build significant peer-to-peer ties, such as various trips during the year and daily discussions in student committee rooms. These engagements with her classmates offered "wonderful opportunities for a deeper awareness and ability to work across the spectrum of the services when I returned to the Coast Guard." Working alongside the International Fellows, for example, gave her a new appreciation for the perspectives of international partners. And the relationships left in place a "network of ready contacts available to you for the rest of your life," a resource that "pays dividends year after year."
When she left NWC, Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara was assigned to the strategic planning staff of the Coast Guard Commandant. There, she found that her War College education "was absolutely key to my being able to bring a broader perspective to questions of how the Coast Guard fits" into larger U.S. government plans and strategies. The tools and insights she developed during the year at the College helped her to "better define and envision where the Coast Guard needed to go in the next twenty-five years." As she moved into progressively more senior leadership positions, the benefits of her War College year continue to make a difference; in a command position with responsibility for operations in the Pacific, for example, "I would go back to what I learned at the National War College about how to interact with people from different cultures, to find common goals and interests moving forward working together."
The year at NWC, Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara also emphasized, offers students a chance to get healthy and to get their families involved in the intellectual life of the College. Students have an opportunity to take a break from the frenetic pace of many of their typical jobs and focus on personal well-being. And her husband audited elective courses at the College. It is "the whole person that's being nurtured and nourished" during the year, she emphasized.
The National War College experience, Vice Admiral Brice-O'Hara concludes, played an important role in preparing her for the substantial responsibilities she has assumed since leaving. It was, she says, "a year that will always be meaningful to me."
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