Rear Admiral Todd A. Sokalzuk, 57, a native of Sunbury, and a Shikellamy High School graduate — class of 1981, is retiring today as the Deputy Commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, after 35 years of service.
Sokalzuk, in this position, has been responsible for all U.S. Coast Guard missions within a geographic region that spans the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf and encompasses five Coast Guard Districts and 40 states.
His career path, which began upon graduation from Shikellamy High School in 1981, has been "an amazing journey," he said on Monday. "But y'know, I'd do it all over again."
He grew up in Sunbury — a great place to live," he said. His older brother Mike still lives in Sunbury.
"Upon graduation from Shikellamy," he recalled, "I wasn't necessarily going to apply to the Coast Guard Academy. I wanted to be an electrical engineer and go to Carnegie Mellon or Lehigh University."
A friend suggested applying to the academy because you don't have to get a nomination, and the application fee wasn't too high.
"By chance, I got accepted," he said.
Laughing, he added, "So here I am, 39 years later."
Sometimes he looks back at his career in a very wistful, yet thankful way: A small-town Pennsylvanian now a Rear Admiral and someone who has had extraordinary experiences and major responsibilities in his years of service.
"I think people in the Susquehanna Valley in general, come away with good work ethic," he said, giving credit to his upbringing.
After high school he attended the Coast Guard Academy, where he graduated in 1985. Four years later, he was designated a Naval Aviator.
"I've really enjoyed my entire career in the Coast Guard and I've had some fascinating jobs," he said. "Spent most of my career as a helicopter pilot."
His officer assignments have included Commander of the Eleventh Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California where he oversaw Coast Guard operations from the California-Oregon border to Peru including Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. In that position he also served as a Deputy Director for the Department of Homeland Security's Joint Task Force West, conducting integrated joint investigations and operations along the Southern border and approaches.
Several other leadership positions followed, including time building the Coast Guard's federal budget and bringing those budgets to Congress. Most recently his work has been as Commandant for Resources and Chief Financial Officer (CG-8) at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"Rear Admiral Sokalzuk has been the ultimate mentor, colleague and friend," said Rear Admiral Jon Hickey, director of Governmental and Public Affairs, on Monday. "From overseeing the Coast Guard's operations across the globe to commanding Coast Guard aviation units, to managing finances for the entire Service, Rear Admiral Sokalzuk has epitomized leadership, stewardship, and vision. Most importantly, Rear Admiral Sokalzuk always took the time to invest in the personal well-being and professional development of his people. On a personal note, he's the best leader I know, and I wouldn't have been successful in my career without his mentorship."
His military awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, Coast Guard Commendation Medal, and various unit commendations.
Post-retirement, Sokalzuk plans to spend more time with his family — his two kids and his wife Ruth.
"We have a senior in high school and an eighth-grader," he said. "I've been gone a lot. Traveled a lot. I'll especially spend some time with my son Sam, as he gets ready to head off to college.
"Looking forward to doing some kayaking," Sokalzuk added. "A little bit of fishing. I play guitar but I've let that wither over the years. So I'll work on my guitar-playing skills. And relax a bit, take a few months off."
Sokalzuk said he'd "like to return to government service, in some other capacity."