Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Yaw
Words – they have power to lift the human spirit to soaring heights, or send it crashing to the ground faster than a fallen star. Not all words carry equal weight though. The United States, among other things, was founded on equality. For some; however, saying equal and being treated equal were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Although much has improved since then, the fight for women’s equality around the world still goes on today. About a month ago on Aug. 26, we officially recognized Women’s Equality Day; however, it is not just about that one specific day for the Coast Guard Cutter Healy. It is a way of life aboard the cutter.
Over 45 years later, the day and its message lived on near the top of the world aboard the largest U.S. icebreaker – Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Cutter Healy is currently underway for its second mission of the summer with a crew of 88 aboard, of which 24% is female. In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Cutter Healy stood in the capable hands of an all-female watch.
Standing the afternoon watch from the bridge was a Californian who needs a stool just to see over the helm. Nonetheless, Seaman Julie Nguyen holds her own as a member of Cutter Healy’s deck force and has her own unique reason for joining the Coast Guard. Her parents came to the U.S. on a boat after Siagon was captured following the Vietnam War.
“They bought a boat and sailed to America for 3 months, and were rescued by the Coast Guard,” Nguyen said proudly. “I felt like enlisting was definetely a goal of mine, just as a thank you.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the jobs in the Coast Guard are open to all personnel, regardless of gender. Nguyen wants to be an intelligence specialist and is considering applying to the Coast Guard Academy to become an intelligence officer.
Two academy graduates were also on the bridge with Nguyen: Ensign Nickolette Morin was the Officer of the Deck, and Ensign Sloane Hecimovich, already a qualified engineer of the watch, was breaking in as an Officer of the Deck. Chief Operations Specialist Nicole Clark completed the bridge watch, serving as Quartermaster of the Watch.
“The fact that females can be commanding officers, females in the coast guard can be pilots, we can be MEs (Maritime Enforcement Specialist) shooting guns – I think that’s pretty cool,” Nguyen exclaims.
Many aboard felt having an all female watch was an excellent way to commemorate Women’s Equality Day, including the women who stood it.
Ensign Abby Isaacs agrees. She chose the Coast Guard because of the humanitarian side of things – the multiple positive mission sets helping others.
“It’s cool knowing that everything happening on the ship, both on the bridge operationally and in main control regarding the engineering plant, was run by women and that we had the responsibility to manage the ship and respond if something happened,” said Issacs, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina-native and recent Coast Guard Academy grad, sitting in main control as the engineer of the watch.
Assisting Issacs in main control was Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Ray, the technician of the watch responsible for both continuously inspecting machinery spaces and assisting the engineer of the watch to ensure proper functionality of equipment. While on watch, these two represent the senior engineer onboard Healy, Lt. Cmdr. Eileen Beck, who has the overall responsibility of the operation and maintenance of one of the most complex and technologically advanced power plant in the Coast Guard.
While these women were standing the watch, Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Densmore and Petty Officer 3rd Class Catherine Towe, food service specialists, and Fireman Catherine Acker, acting as a messcook, were busy preparing delicious meals for the crew and scientists, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia Kinney was in charge of the aft working deck. As the Deck Supervisor, Kinney coordinated a seven-hour evolution to deploy a 3,800 meter mooring as part of an array that will measure sound characteristics in the Arctic.
“It was awesome! We definitely talked about how motivating it is to have other females with us,” Nguyen added.
“The fact that in this country we celebrate [women’s equality] is amazing,” she continued. “It just gives you a better understanding of how appreciated we are.”
Issacs sees a bright future ahead for the nation’s oldest seagoing service, referencing the 110-foot Island Class Cutter Monomoy, which became one of the first fully integrated patrol boats in the Coast Guard in 1994.
“We’ve shown that it can be done,” Isaacs stated in a confident tone, after spending a portion of her watch silencing alarms and troubleshooting issues. “Instead of scheduling an all female watch, it’s just something that can happen without anyone batting an eye at it. We can hold all the same positions as men.”
From t he Commandant’s recent leadership post:
“Cultivating a workforce that reflects the demographics of the society we serve enables diversity of thought, which directly contributes to our workforce’s capability for innovation, new approaches and fresh perspectives.”
What is diversity?
Diversity is variety. It includes all the characteristics, experiences, and differences of each individual. Diversity can be identified as physical characteristics such as skin color and gender, or it may be differences in culture, skills, education, personality type, or upbringing. Each of these traits brings their own perspective and skills to the workplace.
What is inclusion?
Inclusion is a culture that recognizes, values, and respects each individual and promotes collaboration and fairness to enable all members of the workforce to reach their full potential.
Why does the Coast Guard care about diversity and inclusion?
A diverse workforce provides a variety of perspectives and talents that will enhance the workplace. An inclusive work environment creates a workforce that values the individual contributions of its personnel and allows members to feel empowered. Inclusion increases innovation and strengthens teams.
Click here to learn more about Coast Guard Diversity and Inclusion.