Zukunft helped usher in future of US Coast Guard
© Getty Images

It’s not mere coincidence that U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Paul F. Zukunft’s last name translates into “future” in German. It is through his visionary work, which his successor is sure to follow, that the Coast Guard is poised to continue its growth beyond its current inflection point.

On June 1, Vice Adm. Karl L. Schultz will take over as Coast Guard commandant from Zukunft, who has put in years of dedicated service and has worked tirelessly in supporting our sea services. Among his many achievements, he will be remembered for leading the Coast Guard through one of biggest natural disaster seasons in U.S. history during last summer’s hurricanes. His dedicated work will impact the bright future of our sea services for years to come.


As commandant, Zukunft strived for a strategic focused Coast Guard, ready to not only protect the American people at sea and on our homeland but help them in any situation. He used an “all hands on deck” approach to tackle the challenges facing the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security.

His command of the Coast Guard during the 2017 hurricane season saved more than 12,000 Americans, many of whom had their homes and livelihood destroyed. During this time, the men and women of the Coast Guard operated in areas where the service is not usually seen. But through his leadership, the Coast Guard helped restore the hurricane-stricken areas back to working condition. In addition, it is through Zukunft’s efforts that Congress provided the Coast Guard with enough resources to help rebuild homes and facilities affected by the 2017 hurricanes.

Zukunft also lead the military as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon Spill of National Significance. He directed more than 4,700 responders, 6,500 vessels and 120 aircraft during the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

During his tenure as commandant, Zukunft strived to build up the government and the public’s trust and confidence in the Coast Guard. Under his watch, the Coast Guard received clean financial audit opinions reinforcing his leadership in utilization of government resources. Thanks to his tireless efforts and outreach to Congress, the Coast Guard received record-breaking funding for 2018. The service is now on course to secure its first heavy icebreaker in 40 years. Zukunft is fond of stating that the Coast Guard always prides itself as a service that punches above its weight class and that its funding needs to reflect the power of its punch.

The commandant also pushed for stronger cybersecurity, and under his guidance, the service established the Coast Guard’s Cyber Program. Through this effort, the Coast Guard will establish themselves as the recognized leader for cybersecurity in the maritime transportation system for many years to come.

A personal mission of Zukunft was a concerted effort to eliminate sexual assaults from within the Coast Guard. He established a four-year campaign focused on protecting victims of sexual assault and holding those who committed the crime accountable. It was always his desire to build a culture of respect and trust within the Coast Guard, and this effort and results are proof that he did just that.

The Navy League recently recognized his years of service at the Navy League Maritime Gala in April, where he received the inaugural Semper Paratus award, an honor given to government leaders who exemplify the Coast Guard ethos of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

On behalf of the Navy League and our members around the globe, we thank Adm. Zukunft for his four years of service as Coast Guard commandant. He has been an incredible leader and force for good within the Navy League and our sea services.

As the Coast Guard continues to move toward the future, there are still challenges ahead. The $750 million for the heavy icebreaker has been requested but is still not guaranteed. Likewise, the inland waterways fleet and shore infrastructure need to be recapitalized. We look forward to Vice Adm. Shultz’s term as Coast Guard commandant so he can take on these challenges, carrying the torch of leadership passed on from Adm. Zukunft, just like he did with Adm. Robert J. Papp, Adm. Thad Allen and many others before them.

Alan Kaplan is the national president of the Navy League of the United States, www.navyleague.org.