Each year, the President of the United States designates February as African American History Month – a national celebration of both the accomplishments of and long struggle for equality for black Americans. In recognition of African American History Month 2011, the Compass has asked Coast Guard men and women about the valuable role mentoring plays in promoting both diversity and mission success in the Coast Guard.
This week, Coast Guard Compass brings you an interview with Lt. j.g. La’Shanda Holmes, the service’s first African American female helicopter pilot, from Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles where she has been quietly excelling in her first tour as a search and rescue pilot since pinning on her pilot wings in April 2010.
Coast Guard Compass: We’re focusing a lot on the role that mentorship has played in the careers of successful Coast Guard men and women. How important do you think mentorship is to a junior officer hoping to thrive in our Service?
Lt. j.g. Holmes: Mentors are a MUST if you want to be successful. The Coast Guard is so diverse in the backgrounds of people that we serve with everyday. It’s that collective knowledge that we hold as an organization that cannot be kept to ourselves. The progression, future, and safety of the Service depend on it. I have had several mentors in the Coast Guard – such as Lt. Summers, Lt. Menze, Lt. Colbert, Cmdr. Durr, Cmdr. Platt, Capt. Baines, Lt. Cmdr. Merchant, Cmdr. Booker, Lt. Canady … and the list goes on and on. The thing that new members to the Coast Guard need to keep in mind is that mentors are not always going to seek you out. Sometimes you have to do your research and seek them out yourself. And, it is your responsibility to utilize them to the fullest.
Coast Guard Compass: Do you think mentoring has impacted your ability to successfully perform your duties?
Lt. j.g. Holmes: In the aviation community, mentorship has paid dividends. Many of the pilots here at Air Station Los Angeles – as well as many of the enlisted personnel – have so much experience and such an advanced knowledge of the aircraft. I try to soak up a little bit from everyone here to help mold me into a great aviator just as they are. Doing so helps me to more quickly identify hazards, make better judgment calls, and apply my book knowledge to the aircraft and the mission.
Coast Guard Compass: Mentors have clearly had a major impact on your career. Have you or are you actively mentoring anyone within the Coast Guard?
Lt. j.g. Holmes: I do actively mentor, mainly because I know how much I needed it when I was new to the organization. An integral part of being a leader and honoring your profession, in my eyes, is giving back, serving and mentoring those behind us. Those we have the opportunity to mentor are going to be the ones carrying on the legacy of the Coast Guard and it is our responsibility to make sure they have all the tools that they need to take the Coast Guard to the next level.
Coast Guard Compass: Any advice you would provide to people looking for a mentor?
Lt. j.g. Holmes: For those seeking mentorship – do your research first, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Sometimes the people that we think would be the best mentors really are the opposite.
Coast Guard Compass: Anything else you would like to add?
Lt. j.g. Holmes: For those providing mentorship, first I say thank you! I’m sure it’s not always easy being taken away from your work or family to provide advice and guidance, but it is much appreciated. You never know, just five minutes of your time can keep a shipmate alive. Please continue to CHALLENGE us and provide opportunities for growth. Allow us to make mistakes, as well as hold us accountable. Share your successes as well as your growing pains. Prepare us to serve, protect and lead the Coast Guard.