WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A Wilmington native is now in command of the waters along North Carolina.
Rear Admiral Laura M. Dickey assumed the duties of Commander, Fifth Coast Guard District, in September 2020.
“It’s an area that I grew up in and I’m familiar with so it’s a real honor to be able to come back home and be responsible for Coast Guard operations in North Carolina and the Mid Atlantic,” she said.
The Mid Atlantic runs from the North Carolina/South Carolina border to New Jersey and includes 1.4 million square miles of oceans, bays and rivers, along with several ports and the largest U.S. Naval Base in the world.
The U.S. Coast Guard was a natural choice for Dickey.
“My father was in the Coast Guard and right after his graduation from the Coast Guard Academy, my parents got married and the first assignment was the cutter right there on the Wilmington Riverfront, the McCulloch and he moved over to the Mendota,” she said. “A number of years ago, I got to bring one of my cutters into downtown Wilmington for a port call and so our family has just been associated with the Coast Guard since the late 60s.”
As her dad retired, Dickey was heading to the Coast Guard Academy.
Over her years of service, Dickey has been awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, four Meritorious Service Medals, three Coast Guard Commendation Medals, two Coast Guard Achievement Medals, numerous operational unit awards, and the Vice Presidential Service Badge.
“I’ve done some really unique things,” she said. “Chasing drug runners in the middle of the night with all the lights off on the ship and a helicopter overhead and a small boat ready to shoot the engines out of the bad guys boat is pretty exciting stuff. Then, you sit back and think, wow, that was really kind of neat, pretty hair-raising stuff but really fun and rewarding.”
Prior to assuming Command of the Fifth District, Dickey served as the Deputy Director of Operations for United States Northern Command, where she was a principal advisor to the Commander USNORTHCOM on all operational matters, providing strategic guidance to plan and execute NORTHCOM missions.
Dickey also served as Vice President Biden’s Special Advisor for Homeland Security, Counterterrorism and Africa.
Dickey’s career has taken her all over the world.
“We always talk about the Navy, join the Navy see the world, but with the Coast Guard ships, I’ve been all over the place,” she said. “I was stationed in Bahrain for a year. I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Arctic, off of South America and Central America and the Caribbean, off of New England."
She encourages others to join the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard in general is a great career,” she said. “I’ve been given some amazing opportunities and it’s never been about my gender or any restrictions on that whatsoever. In fact, the Coast Guard has been very open to women on board ships for almost 40 years now. The Coast Guard is very diverse in its missions and in its people and there are lots of opportunities, whether it’s civilian or reserve or even as a volunteer with a Coast Guard axillary.”
Although the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence is no longer stationed in Wilmington, Dickey said the Coast Guard continues to have strong ties to our community.
“We appreciate the support we get in the local communities and it’s a privilege to get to serve,” she said. “We have stations in Oak Island, Wrightsville Beach, Emerald Isle and on up the Outer Banks, so the Coast Guard isn’t always as visible as it may have used to have been with the Diligence not downtown any longer but certainly the Coast Guard is still within the community and still on the water to protect the boating community there.”
Dickey is a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Government. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University Of North Carolina School of Law in 2002 and graduated with honors from Naval Justice School. She is also a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, holding a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies. She is a member of the Bar of the State of North Carolina.