The First Woman to Lead Great Lakes' Coast Guard Retires Today

Aug 2, 2017

Ryan says she will continue advocating for what she sees as the biggest problem on the lakes: the lack of lifejackets for boaters.
Credit GREAT LAKES TODAY

The first woman to lead the Coast Guard district that covers the Great Lakes is retiring today. 

In the two years Rear Admiral June Ryan has been Commander of the 9th District, the winters have been mild.  And there hasn’t really been a need for ice-breaking – what she calls the Coast Guard Great Lakes' greatest challenge.

But she says there’s another challenge – one she’ll continue to battle even after she retires. It comes with increased recreational boating on the Great Lakes, especially people using kayaks and canoes.

“Our greatest challenge is a lot of them don’t wear lifejackets," says Ryan. "Canoes and kayaks are very easy to tip over, so they end up in the water more frequently than any other boater,."

Statistics show it’s a big problem. Nationwide, 83 percent of boating accident victims who drowned last year were not wearing a lifejacket.

Remaining in the region
Ryan is retiring to stay in Cleveland with her family but will miss her Coast Guard family as well.

“I joined because my father was a patriot, and encouraged me," she saya. "I joined the Coast Guard and realized it is very much like a family.

“I went to my first unit and I had 30 big brothers who were doing nothing but watching out for me.”

She’s had a lot of firsts in her career: She was the first woman in Coast Guard history to go from enlisted all the way to admiral.

And for her last “first," Ryan is passing the torch to another woman: Rear Admiral Joanna Nunan.

Nunan says she looks forward to continuing the work Ryan has done and maintaining communication with federal, state, and local partners and Canada.

“Part of my job is really to cultivate these relationships and these partnerships to make sure we are working together on the important issues,” says Nunan.

Nunan will stay in Cleveland for the next two years. 

Great Lakes Today is a collaboration of Ideastream, WBFO Buffalo and WXXI Rochester.