Coast Guard sector gets new commander
Written by Milwaukee Joournal-Sentinel   
Friday, 03 July 2009 09:14
About the only U.S. Coast Guard task Capt. Luann Barndt has not participated in during her almost three decades in the military is icebreaking.

As the new commander of Milwaukee-based Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, Barndt is now in the right place for plenty of ice to break.

The first female to command the Lake Michigan sector, the largest of 35 Coast Guard sectors in the number of field units, Barndt was deputy commander in Guam when she learned she would take over the helm in the northern Midwest.

"I don't think I necessarily thought about" the cold winters, Barndt said Wednesday during a change of command ceremony at the Coast Guard station on Milwaukee's lakefront. "My last assignment was Guam, and I would tell visitors that the Coast Guard did everything there except for icebreaking. So now I have the privilege to add that," she said, to her résumé.

Barndt, who turns 47 next week, will oversee 22 field units that include 19 multi-mission stations, a marine safety unit, marine safety detachment and a sector field office. She will command a total of 510 active-duty members, 225 reserve members and 15 civilians. She takes over for Capt. Bruce Jones, who has commanded the sector since 2005 and will become chief at the Office of Strategic Analysis at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

A Pennsylvania native and fan of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, Barndt graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1984. She said she wanted to join the Coast Guard since she was a teenager and applied only to the academy and one college - and then turned down the college before she learned she had earned an appointment to the academy.

While stationed in Guam she was deployed to Baton Rouge, La., in response to Hurricane Katrina, where she served on the principal federal officer's staff helping plan and coordinate evacuations. She was there when Hurricane Rita hit a short time later, and she vividly remembers the devastation.

Like all Coast Guard members, Barndt has been training for rescue missions her entire career. Putting her training to use after Katrina and Rita was particularly rewarding.

"Being a part of the response and seeing the training come to life was gratifying and challenging," she said.

Barndt is a scuba diver who spent off hours exploring the waters of Guam. She said she's not sure if she can go from the 80-degree Pacific Ocean to much colder Lake Michigan. Despite the chilly water, she said the Lake Michigan sector was No. 1 on her list of dream jobs, partly because of the influence of her father, who is fascinated by the Great Lakes and often talked to her about the region.

As for why it took so long for a woman to helm the Lake Michigan sector, Barndt said women have been able to join the Coast Guard for only a relatively short time. Women were first integrated into active duty in 1973; the first woman graduated from the academy in 1980.

"I'm proud to say we compete  for jobs equally. We don't look for female positions or male positions," she said. "I'm proud to represent the diversity of the Coast Guard."
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