This month’s commemoration of women’s history highlights the achievements of women in the Coast Guard and celebrates their qualities of character, courage and commitment. In this four-part series, we will be introducing you to women who are making an impact in the Coast Guard. Each of these dedicated officer and enlisted leaders embodies this year’s theme that has served her well in her career.
Written by Lisa Novak.
“I’ve never had a woman tell me what to do,” said the young crewman to the coxswain. “Are you okay with that?” she said to him. “Yeah, it’s just different,” he replied.
Master Chief Petty Officer Janine Tschantz-Hahn laughed when she recalled the story of the surprised Coast Guardsman on her boat crew when she was a coxswain in the 1990s.
“I can’t imagine anyone saying that with so many more women in charge now,” said Tschantz-Hahn. “It’s so much more common now.”
Tschantz-Hahn has logged 21 years of active and reserve duty in the Coast Guard, a service she admits she didn’t know much about when she first looked into it. She talked several times with a local recruiter and then signed up for active duty.
“I grew up near the water in San Jose, boating, waterskiing, and my dad suggested that the Coast Guard might be something I would be interested in,” she said. “The thought of being on boats, near water, the ocean, and the aspect of helping people — that appealed to me.”
She made coxswain while still a seaman and was first stationed in San Francisco. Training on the motor lifeboats and law enforcement instructor school soon followed, and Tschantz-Hahn began training others how to drive boats. At one point in the mid 1990s, she led a smallboat crew that happened to be all female.
“I was the coxswain, the engineer, and two crewmen, all women—we were proud of that. We’d pull up alongside vessels to do boardings and the looks we’d get from people when they would see that it’s all women with weapons, well, at first, many people had something to say because they were surprised, but really, it was positive,” she said.
“I think I met one woman master chief in my first 10 years in the Coast Guard, and that was while attending a boarding officer course at [Training Center] Yorktown,” she said. “I recently met a woman who said she was the first female chief to be on a [Tactical Law Enforcement Team]. I thought, that is awesome.”
Tschantz-Hahn said she owes her career success to personal accountability, proficiency in craft and the influence of positive leaders. She believes by fostering communication and cooperation, you can ensure a collaborative environment that results in mission excellence.
Tschantz-Hahn has also been able to strike a balance between work and home life.
“I was fortunate to have had ample opportunity and support, and the opportunity to take charge of my career. I know some women get blocked at certain points in their career, torn between their desire to stay in the Coast Guard and their need to be a good mother, but I’ve been lucky to have excellent bosses along the way that supported my dual role. I’m also very self-motivated to advance and I push myself to do more,” she said.
One memorable moment of being a leader came when Tschantz-Hahn was a chief and had gone into the reserves at Station Key West.
“A storm cell came in and it got completely dark, the rain was pouring sideways and the seas were picking up,” said Tschantz-Hahn. “I remember the coxswain on the 47’ was looking around and he said to me ‘You want to take it?’ and I said, ‘All right.’ It reminded me of one time when I was a BM2 and I got nervous once in steep 20-foot seas off San Francisco and I looked at the older chief on board that I respected—who was just along for the boat ride—and said ‘Chief, you want to take the helm?’ and was relieved to know he was there to help me out back then. Now, this younger boatswain mate is looking at me because he knew I was used to bad weather. He turned to me and asked me to take the helm and bring the boat in.”
“I believe any woman who joins the military has courage in them, because it’s still one of those choices not a lot of women will think about as their future, and any woman who wants to join the service and risk her life has some sort of courage in them to do that,” said Tschantz-Hahn of her fellow female servicemembers.
Tschantz-Hahn currently serves as the Coast Guard 7th District Reserve Command Master Chief. Being a gold badge is fulfilling work, she said, with her favorite part being getting reservists the information they need, especially when they don’t know where to turn for answers.
“It has been my duty but also personally satisfying to have had an effect on individuals that I have trained to operate boats and conduct missions,” she said. “Now, it’s 1,000 people that I have the opportunity to influence and mentor.”