Vice Adm. David Pekoske was promoted to the Coast Guard’s second-highest post – vice commandant – in August 2009. A 1977 graduate of the USCG Academy, he also has a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University (1989) and an MBA from MIT (1997). In his 32-year career, he has held six operational unit commands and served in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts and the Great Lakes. He received his first star in 2004 and his third in 2008, when he was appointed commander, Pacific Area/Coast Guard Defense Forces West.
J.R. Wilson: You have called modernization a top priority for the Coast Guard; in your new job as a primary service-wide integrator/implementer, how will you pursue that?
Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Vice Adm. David Pekoske: I plan to keep on moving modernization forward as quickly as I can. The central tenet of modernization is to focus the roles and responsibilities of key leaders in the field and headquarters and the processes around which they work. Implementing modernization is an imperative; to be always ready for what we see as the future operating environment, we must modernize.
The commandant develops our strategy and works our relationships with our key stakeholders, both here in Washington, around the country, and indeed around the world. My role as vice commandant is to manage the business of the organization; I implement the commandant’s strategic intent via our senior leadership which, when modernization is complete, will be the deputy commandant for Mission Support (DCMS), the deputy commandant for Operations (DCO), the operational commander (OPCOM) and the Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM). Our current geographic-based structure is outdated and was built for a time before rapid means of communication or requirements for service-wide response. The common theme is rather than taking a regional approach to operations, we are taking a service-wide view. At the end of the day, we are convinced this will result in improved mission performance and operational effectiveness across the board. In the short term, we need Congress to provide the authorization in law to make changes to our core leadership structure.
What do you consider to have been the highlights of the past year or so for the USCG?
We commissioned our first National Security Cutter, Bertholf, the first major ship commissioning in decades and desperately needed in our inventory. We brought on the superb CASA aircraft, modernized our helicopter fleet and let the contract for our new fast response cutter, a model contract for acquisition. We are seeing much-needed new capabilities come into the Coast Guard inventory.
We also scoped our requirements for operation in the Arctic. We worked with tribal leaders and other partners to understand what it will take to operate there in the decades ahead.
What are the requirements there?
We continue to support scientific research. As the ice continues to melt, water space opens and the oil and gas industry explores vast fields, we will see a greater need for Coast Guard marine inspection. Cruise ship traffic is on the rise and we will have a responsibility to ensure safety. As shipping routes emerge, so will the need for navigation services and consideration of a traffic separation scheme in the Bering Strait. As one of the most pristine environments on the planet, if there is any sort of environmental issue, we will need to respond – and the operating requirements are unlike any we have faced elsewhere. Fish stock protection, law enforcement, homeland security and nearly every mission that the Coast Guard performs around the country will be in demand.
What goals and challenges do you see for the Coast Guard in the year to come?
To maintain our motto to be always ready, we must continue our efforts to recapitalize the service – this is critical. Some of our cutters were commissioned more than 40 years ago – that’s old for any ship, especially those that must operate in adverse weather conditions. A key challenge and priority going forward is to get legislative authority to fully implement modernization, giving us the organizational structure and processes we need, including authority for our most senior organizational positions.