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Coast Guard commander on Great Lakes retires

Elizabeth Miller
Great Lakes Today
Retiring Rear Adm. June Ryan

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

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

But she says there’s another challenge – one she’ll continue to fight for, 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, and then they’re very easy – canoes and kayaks are very easy -- to tip over, so they end up in the water more frequently than any other boater,” Ryan said.

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

Ryan is retiring to stay in Cleveland with her family – but says she will miss her Coast Guard family as well.

“I joined because my father was a patriot, and encouraged me," she said. "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 that 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.

Credit Elizabeth Miller / Great Lakes Today
Great Lakes Today
Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan

And for her last “first,” Ryan is passing the torch to another woman -- Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan.

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

Nunan will stay in Cleveland for the next two years.

Reporter/producer Elizabeth Miller joined ideastream after a stint at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., where she served as an intern on the National Desk, pitching stories about everything from a gentrified Brooklyn deli to an app for lost dogs. Before that, she covered weekend news at WAKR in Akron and interned at WCBE, a Columbus NPR affiliate. Elizabeth grew up in Columbus before moving north to attend Baldwin Wallace, where she graduated with a degree in broadcasting and mass communications.