Written by Lt. j.g. Katie Braynard
Support. It’s been a common theme throughout the entirety of Capt. Lucinda Cunningham’s career. A theme that she hopes will continue.
Cunningham enlisted in the Coast Guard in May 1990 after graduating college in North Carolina.
“I did not have the electronic experience I needed to impress people and get hired, so I said ‘Hey, I want to serve my country anyway,’” Cunningham said. “The Coast Guard was just so appealing to me because of the humanitarian missions.”
Cunningham, an electronics technician at the time, was able to build her skills at her first unit, the Coast Guard Cutter Legare. Although she had originally planned to leave the Coast Guard after just four years of service, her plans changed drastically once she stepped foot aboard the cutter.
“I ran into so many great people and officers on the ship,” she said.
Those people she met encouraged the young college graduate to apply for the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School and earn a commission. That encouragement came at the right time. Cunningham’s rating had just merged with another rating, sonar technician, and advancements were slow. She decided to follow the encouragement from her shipmates aboard Cutter Legare and apply for OCS.
It paid off – she was accepted into OCS and graduated in 1994 and received her first assignment – to lead the Coast Guard’s Ceremonial Honor Guard in Alexandria, Virginia. This assignment marked the first time a woman was to lead a U.S armed forces ceremonial honor guard.
“That was a great tour,” she remembers. “It was really tough, but eventually everyone came to accept me. It was a great experience.”
Her follow-on tour was a bit more challenging. Assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Buttonwood, Cunningham struggled and said she thought her career may be over.
Her next tour brought her back into the technology field – where she found the support she needed to excel and go on to multiple successful follow-on tours, including attending graduate school and serving as executive officer at Electronic Support Unit Boston.
Cunningham currently serves as the executive assistant to the Assistant Commandant for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology, Rear Adm. Marshall Lytle at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. However, Cunningham recently earned her greatest honor: she became the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of captain in the U.S. Coast Guard equivalent to a colonel in the U.S. Army, Air Force or Marine Corps. In a ceremony held May 6, 2015, Cunningham was promoted from the rank of commander to captain as she prepared for her next assignment as commanding officer of Coast Guard Base New Orleans.
“I am incredibly humbled, and I am taking this milestone really seriously,” said Cunningham. “I am very thankful. I am very proud to be in the Coast Guard.”
As she prepares to move forward to her next assignment, Cunningham knows that she will continue to be a role model for young men and women serving in the Coast Guard, as well as a role model for peers.
And the one thing she wants to carry throughout her tenure as commanding officer of Base New Orleans? Support.
“Whatever services, support, mission execution we should be doing for the sector, the district, just the people in that area, I want to make sure I meet their expectations,” said Cunningham. “I want to make Base New Orleans the best base in the entire Coast Guard.”
And for junior officers following in her footsteps, she has one additional piece of advice: find a mentor.
“That support structure is what led to my success,” she said. “All of those mentors helped me to grow. And I need to keep growing, and I hope to pull others up with me.”