Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard: Who Is Paul Zukunft?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Paul Zukunft

Admiral Paul Zukunft took over as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard on May 30, 2014. He is the 25th person to hold that position.


Zukunft was born January 30, 1955, in New Haven, Conn., and grew up in nearby North Branford. He stayed near home as he attended the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., graduating in 1977 with a B.S. in government. Zukunft subsequently earned an M.A. in management from Webster University in 1988 and an M.A. in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College in 1997.


After having been in the Coast Guard only three years, Zukunft commanded a 95-foot boat, the Cape Upright, as the Mariel boatlift was going on. At one point Zukunft and his crew took 200 people off a leaky 60-foot boat making its way to Florida. During his career, Zukunft also commanded the cutters Rush and Harriet Lane, and served as chief of staff at the Fourteenth Coast Guard District in Honolulu, Hawaii. Other assignments included Chief of Operations for the Coast Guard Pacific Area and Chief of Operations Oversight for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area.


In 2008, Zukunft took over as commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, which comprises California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Two years later, he was made federal on-scene coordinator of the BP oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico under National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen.


Zukunft then served as commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, which stretches from the Rockies west to the east coast of Africa.


As Commandant, Zukunft has pushed for the Coast Guard to acquire new ships, including an Offshore Patrol Cutter, which would be suitable for sailing in the worst weather, and additional icebreakers. The service’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is 40 years old and prone to breakdowns. Zukunft is concerned that if the Polar Star were to break down in the middle of the icepack, there would be no way to rescue the ship.


Zukunft’s wife, Fran, is a former pharmaceutical sales rep. They have one son, and Zukunft has two daughters from an earlier marriage.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

            Official Biography (pdf)


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