African American History Month: Gail Jackson

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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 a guest post by Gail Jackson, deputy director for the Office of Resource Management for the Deputy Commandant for Operations. Jackson also serves as president for the Coast Guard chapter of Blacks in Government where she advocates equity in all aspects of American life, excellence in public service and opportunity for all Americans.

Gail Jackson on mentoring

Written by Gail Jackson, deputy director for the Office of Resource Management for the Deputy Commandant for Operations

When I was hired as a civilian employee with the Coast Guard in 2000, I had no knowledge of the military’s culture, its organizational structure or procedures. I found myself as the only civilian assigned to an office filled with highly motivated military personnel who were destined for career success.

I knew that for me to be successful, I had to show that same kind of desire and enthusiasm. To accomplish this goal I knew I needed a coach and mentors. I was able to find the type of mentorship I needed from Capts. Thomas Jones, Todd Sokalzuk, Andrew Tiongson, Stuart Merrill and Eric Jones, as well as retired Cmdr. Susan Woodruff, just to name a few.

Ms. Gail Jackson
Jackson sought out coaches and mentors after finding herself as the only civilian in her office. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

While I have never been involved in a formal mentoring program with the Coast Guard, for over three years, I volunteered with the Coast Guard’s Partnership In Education program by serving as a reading mentor in a district public school. Just helping the students in such a small way encouraged me to want to give to others. In my current position, I often find myself telling others how my mentors paved my path for success and that I stand ready to assist anyone who has the sincere desire to reach their goals and objectives.

When I think of the role of a mentor, I am often reminded of Homer’s great poem The Odyssey. Odysseus had a tough time finding his way home to his palace in Ithaca after the Trojan War, what with all those monsters, dangerous whirlpools, sirens and lotus eaters threatening to derail his journey. But Odysseus was comforted in knowing that he had left a wise and trusted fellow, named Mentor, to be the guardian and teacher to his son, Telemachus, during his absence.

Personally, I view the mentoring process as a means in which a relationship is developed between the mentor and the mentee that allows the mentee to let his or her guard down. It is a place where one can get honest feedback. A place where one can get psychological and social support in handling stressful situations.

Therefore mentorship in the Coast Guard, especially within the minority community, is valuable because in today’s world, best-in-class organizations understand that racial, cultural and gender diversity in the workplace is no longer nice-to-have, but a necessity in order to reach its goals, missions and objectives. A diverse and inclusive organization is able to recognize and fully deploy a wide range of knowledge and skills, reach out to an increasingly diverse clientele and motivate all talented employees from all backgrounds to perform their best.

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