That would be right here in Baltimore. I was the last commander of Group Baltimore. At the time we had two types of units focused on different missions in the port area. I was the commander of the Group at Curtis Bay with the small boats, the stations and operations center overseeing the rescue missions in the bay area. The other unit was the Marine Safety Office located at the Customs House. It was focused on the regulatory aspects of shipping. They had inspectors and investigators but no boats. If something happened offshore and they needed to get someone on the scene, the Group would arrange for a boat.

What made sense was to combine us into one unit, which is today's Sector Baltimore. But the Coast Guard did it first with four prototypes to figure out the best way to deliver services most efficiently. I had the opportunity to be part of planning Sector Baltimore. We had a lot of freedom to figure out the best way to do it — and then we had to do it.

Was it painful?

We had to blend two cultures into one. We had a lot of learning to do about each other. We all had to become conversant in each other's world. Whenever you have change, you have worries — What's going to happen to me? Do I gain stature? Am I diminished? In my instance, I left a command and became a deputy. Capt. [G.S.] Cope, head of the Marine Safety Office, became the commander here in Curtis Bay. Lots of change, but I absolutely believe it was the right thing to do operationally. And clearly it was the right thing because today we have reorganized across the Coast Guard.

What was it like to go from being commander to No. 2? How did you deal with that?

I have always felt that the key to success in your profession is if you are broadening your understanding of the organization and you are taking on new challenges and you are continually learning through what are sometimes very difficult times. I wanted to make myself a better Coast Guard leader. All of what I was required to do to work through that significant change and then blend into the new unit was professionally enhancing. I think it helped keep me fresh and it provided me with a perspective I didn't have before. As I have moved up in my career, I think I have become more versatile and more useful to the Coast Guard because of the broadening I received during that assignment.

But you could have pouted.

Well, you have to be humble enough to see that what's most important is the success of the Coast Guard. If the Coast Guard is successful, if your unit is successful, then the people will be successful. I was never in the Coast Guard to be an admiral. I was never in the Coast Guard to be vice commandant. I have been in the Coast Guard because it has allowed me to feel personally fulfilled at the end of the day.

And if the Coast Guard continued to see me as a leader who provided value and wanted to keep me around, that was great. But what I most focused on was doing my job well. And when I mentor young people and provide career advice, I always emphasize that you have to be personally and professionally satisfied by what you do. You can never be static. You might have to take on duties or tasks that you're not familiar with, but that's how you grow, that's how you stay competitive.

How do you strike a balance in your life?

Everybody has different demands on them and other things that are important in their lives. Not many people know that I have a family. I have a wonderful husband who was a Coast Guard officer and he understood what I was going through, and I understood what he was going through. His career track took him to sea a lot, so I was home alone raising two boys. And there were times in my career where I went in late at night or took a lot of calls at home in the evening or the weekend, and he was willing to do his part. Our family moved a lot and our boys didn't complain. One joins and the whole family serves.

Thirty-eight years is a long time. Will you miss this?

I will always be a part of the Coast Guard family. … I know I will continue to be involved and there are ways I can continue to give back. There are people coming up behind me that I know I will stay in touch with because I have a vested interest in their success. Retiring to Annapolis I'll be close to headquarters so I know I'll stay in tune. There will be some gladness, too, because when I leave there's a lot of promotions that will happen all the way down the chain. It's time for someone else to have an opportunity.

You're 58, too young to retire.

There's a lot more I expect I'll be doing, whether it's community service, volunteering, employment. I'm certain there will be something to come along and I'm fortunate to be in a position where I can pick and choose. I'm not necessarily going to jump at the first offer. But I expect there will be somebody interested in the skills and talent that I have to offer. I still need to write my resume [laughing].

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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