Woman "Breaks Ice" in Coast Guard


10-Year Member
Jun 9, 2006
Groton — A woman has been named deputy commander of the International Ice Patrol for the first time in the unit's 95- year history.
“I'm honored to be the first woman to do it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath. “I just hope I can bring a different perspective to the job and make the unit as best as possible so we can accomplish our mission.”

McGrath relieved Lt. Cmdr. Byron Willeford as second in command of the unit on July 13. She is responsible for the administrative, budgetary and training components of the unit and all personnel issues.

Cmdr. Scott Rogerson, commander of IIP, said that McGrath “embodies the Coast Guard's core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.”

“I don't think it will be long into the future when she or another officer of equal caliber are the commanding officer of ice patrol,” Rogerson said.

IIP is located at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus. Staff there monitor iceberg danger near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and provide the limit of all known ice to mariners to eliminate the risk of iceberg collision.

Officers at the unit must have a master's degree in oceanography, Rogerson said, and seven of the 13 people who have graduated or will graduate with the degree from 1999 to 2009 are women.

Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Mack was the first female Coast Guard officer to complete graduate school for physical oceanography, Rogerson said. She graduated in 1999 and became the ice information officer and then ice operations officer at IIP.

McGrath is the second female officer to serve at IIP. McGrath, who is originally from West Newton, Penn., was previously the ice information officer at IIP, responsible for providing information to mariners and running the operations center.

“This is a great unit,” she said. “Everyone who is here really wants to be here and that's a great atmosphere to come into.”

As the deputy, she said she wants to further encourage the positive atmosphere and help the members of the unit progress in their careers and get the training they need.

McGrath graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1996 with a degree in marine and environmental sciences.

“I always wanted to get into marine and environmental protection,” McGrath said. “Saving the ocean was my thing growing up.”

She reported to the Cutter Gallatin (WHEC-721) in Charleston, S.C. and helped conduct drug interdiction patrols in the Caribbean from 1996 to 1998.

She then went to the Marine Safety Office San Francisco Bay in Alameda, Calif. As chief of the marine environmental response division, she planned for and responded to oil spills and hazardous substance releases in the coastal zone.

After Sept. 11, 2001, she helped increase port security in San Francisco. She also led an investigation into an oil spill that affected over 2,000 birds.

The oil was coming from the sunken SS Jacob Luckenbach, a freighter that collided with another vessel near the Golden Gate Bridge in 1953 en route to Korea carrying automotive and railroad parts for the war.

“The currents would shift through the wreck and sometimes push the oil up,” Mc- Grath said. “The oil was just below the surface so if you were flying over, you would not necessarily see it. It was pretty tricky to figure out.”

McGrath oversaw the clean up of the wreck site and then transferred in 2002 to the Marine Safety Office in Boston to become chief of the contingency planning and preparedness department.

She was chosen to be the lead coordinator for the Coast Guard for the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. She worked with other agencies to protect the convention attendees and Boston residents from a terrorist attack during the week of the convention.

“We planned for it for a year and a half,” McGrath said. “It was pretty crazy. I was working 20, 21 hours a day at the end. But that's the neat thing about the Coast Guard. You can get involved in so many different things.”

She was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Service Medal for her work. She has also been awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal and Achievement Medal.

Following her tour in Boston, she was selected for the Coast Guard's Master of Science post-graduate program in oceanography. She graduated in 2006 from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography with a degree in physical oceanography and went to IIP.

“It has been said that a good leader surrounds him or herself with good people who are smarter than themselves,” Rogerson said. “McGrath fits that position for me. I'm thrilled to have her on the team and I look forward to working with her.”

McGrath's tour at IIP ends in 2010. She lives in Ledyard with her husband and their two children, a son, 6, and a daughter, 2.

“I bought my son a book about the Titanic so I can tell him why this is important,” McGrath said. “I show him the pictures and I tell him that I want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else. You feel like it's an important job you're doing.”