Each month, VA’s Center for Women Veterans profiles a different woman Veteran author as part of its Women Veteran Authors Book Corner. This month’s author is Coast Guard Veteran Vice Admiral (ret) Sandra Stosz.
Stosz served on active duty from 1982-2018. In her 40-year career, she broke ice and glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes, and was the first woman to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She blieves that those who are eager to make a difference by helping people and organizations be at their best will discover joy and satisfaction in both work and personal life. She wrote about this in her book, “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters.”
What are you doing now in retirement?
I retired in 2018 and my primary goal has been to write my book, “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters.” I also volunteer for seven boards and advisory councils, which keeps me very busy! The work is satisfying and rewarding, and I love giving back after all the Coast Guard gave me.
What was your career field and years of service?
I served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1982-2018 and attained the rank of vice admiral (O-9). Career field was surface operations (serving at sea in ships).
What were your tours, deployments and campaigns (OIF, OEF, Vietnam, Gulf War, etc.)?
I served at sea for a total of 12 years on six different cutters. I deployed on polar icebreakers from the Arctic to the Antarctic, on a smaller icebreaker on the Great Lakes, in the Caribbean conducting law enforcement, and in the north Atlantic protecting New York City following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
What notable commendations did you receive (Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Achieve Medal, Combat Action Achievement, etc.)?
Distinguished Service Medal (2); Legion of Merit (3); Meritorious Service Medal (4).
What was your fondest or proudest service memory?
Hands down the proudest moments were when I was in command of the Coast Guard’s Recruit Training Center (boot camp) and then, several years later, the Coast Guard Academy. The exact moments were when new recruits formed up to graduate after their eight weeks of basic training at boot camp, and when the cadets formed up to graduate after four years at the Academy. Seeing those young men and women who had entered from all walks and stations of life transformed into leaders of character proudly heading off to serve their nation always deeply moved me.
What was your inspiration for writing?
When I was a junior officer, in my late 20’s, I was assigned to serve as the Secretary of Transportation’s military aide. At the time, the Coast Guard was a part of the Department of Transportation. I met a young woman, Shane, who was also working in the Secretary’s front office. We had some amazing experiences traveling with the Secretary and seeing how the government works. One day I was telling Shane I thought I’d write a book on leadership to give back some of what I was learning from my unique experiences. She knew I had been the first woman to serve in some of my jobs, so she immediately stated, “You need to call that book ‘Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass!’” And 30 years later, “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass” is being published. I can’t hardly believe it!
How has your military experience shaped your creativity or how you express yourself?
The Coast Guard helped reinforce my personal core values, and gave me three new core values: Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty (the USCG core values). Those core values shaped me as a leader of character, helping me understand how to be a better leader in the workplace and a better person. The military regimen caused me to yearn for ways to express myself. I love to cook, write and take pictures.
What advice would you give other women Veterans who may be considering writing?
Find a mentor! Reach out to find and meet other women who have published books. A male colleague who knew I was writing a book on leadership connected me with a well-known woman author who connected me to others and so on until I had a cadre of women in the book writing and publishing business who helped and mentored me. I also joined the Author’s Guild and a couple of author-centered social media groups. The author community is a powerful network!
Can women Veteran authors be instrumental in shaping society’s understanding of women Veterans’ military experience and their contributions?
Women have a different perspective than men, so it’s important that their voices be heard. My book, “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters,” tells the story of my 40-year journey in the Coast Guard from cadet to admiral. I was the first woman to serve in many of the positions I held. My experiences were much different than those of my male peers. Stories like mine will help people understand the challenges and opportunities available for women who want to serve.
What were some of your obstacles and challenges in writing this book?
It took me two and one-half years from the time I started writing until “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” was scheduled to be published. I wrote a draft manuscript, which I thought was ok, but a developmental editor tore it apart! It was great feedback, but I had to go back to the drawing board in a way. What it forced me to do was add all those stories that teach the leadership lessons in a personal way.
How has writing this book helped you?
I’ve learned how to teach my leadership lessons learned through personal stories that resonate.
What is your favorite quote?
The Man in the Arena, by Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”